Shane Harms/ Ballard News-Tribune
2015 photo of unauthorized campers off he tracks adjacent to the Yankee Diner site.

City hires private contractors to 'clean up' unauthorized homeless sites in Ballard

Millionair Club workers hired for one site

Seattle’s homeless may be wondering where their encampments are going since City of Seattle started hiring a private company to remove them, and some of those removals have happened in Ballard.

Last May the Stranger ran a story about the City of Seattle privatizing the ”clean-up’” and removal of unauthorized homeless encampments.

According to Katherine Bush Jolly, Director of External Relations with the Seattle Human Services Department, there were 13 clean-ups in Seattle from last February to May, amounting to $80,869.05 in service payments to private contractors. The crews disposed of 19.6 of “material,” which sometimes included possessions medications, clothing and bedding. It also included drugs, alcohol and unsanitary materials.

“Department of Corrections (DOC) is the principal provider of clean-up services, private contractors are secondary and on-demand only. We engage private contractors when there is insufficient DOC capacity to meet the demand. Many of the cleanups involve removal of tons of hazardous debris, including needles and human waste,” Jolly wrote to the Ballard News-Tribune.

The Stranger reported that the City pays $240 per hour for "encampment cleanup in designated locations as needed," and $80 per hour per worker in a three-person crew. City records confirm their findings.

At least two of those contracts were performed in Ballard. One was for the cleanup and removal materials at the Yankee Diner site in preparation for the city-sanctioned Safe Parking Zone, where RVs and people living in cars reside. The City hired Millinair Club Charity workers to perform the clean-up. The Millinair Club is a charity that helps transition homeless individuals into housing and aligns them with jobs.

The Yankee Diner Site was notorious for being the place of unsanctioned homeless encampments. In September of 2015 the BNT reported Ballard residents voicing concern over campers and trash heaps along the tracks adjacent to the site.

Rustin is a Ballard resident who works in the service industry. He asked that his last name not be used for this article.

“I find it sadly ironic and horrifying that there could be a chance that the City would pay potentially homeless people to ‘clean-up’ and throw away other homeless people’s belongings,” said Rustin.

“The Millionair Club principally did litter removal in preparation for RV Safe Zones.”

A company going by the name Hughes Group LLC performed the other cleanup near the Ballard Locks. They were paid $2,459.42 on May 3. Other companies performing the clean-ups included Bio Clean Inc. and Cascadia Cleaning & Removal LLC.

“Cascadia, Belfor and Hughes provide encampment cleanup services under the site supervision of a City field coordinator.  The field coordinator stores belongings and valuables that meet the criteria of City rules. Belongings and valuables are stored for at least 60 days.”

Jolly explained that the contractors only come in at the very end, after extensive outreach has been completed and all individuals have been asked to move from the site by Seattle Police Department.

“The notice, outreach, cleanup process takes place over a several day period. A city employee is responsible for identifying any items that should be stored under the City’s MDAR protocols.”

However, the Stranger report from last May indicated that’s not the case entirely.

“One worker (private contactor) told me they ‘toss everything’ if no one is around to claim their belongings. He said they would come back again later because the camp was still occupied,” wrote the reporter.

“City employees, police officers, and trained social workers are the only ones that interface with encampment occupants directly, not cleanup contractors,” wrote Jolly.
 
Also, despite the City hiring private contractors Jolly explained that the trash removal portion of encampment cleanups have been and largely continues to be provided by Department of Corrections work crews.

“The cost of these crews is a part of the Clean City programs of Seattle Public Utilities, and is not invoiced separately from the illegal dumping abatement also done by these crews.”
 
The Stranger reported that the number of sweeps has boomed from 131 in 2013 to more than 527 last year. Also, the 2016 One Night Count finding 2,942 people sleeping outside while the city funds about 1,600 shelter beds.

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