Written by Andrew Garber on November 5, 2014 12:26 pm
Sergeant Paul Gracy isn’t a landlord. He can’t charge rent, demand security deposits or, generally speaking, evict unwanted tenants.
Yet he still has to figure out what to do with Russell, a seemingly permanent fixture on the sidewalks near Denny Way and Aurora Avenue. “He’s been living there for four years,” Gracy says, walking toward Russell’s abode.
Russell, wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt with “Sugar Mama needed” scrawled on the front, sees Gracy and waves, a smoldering cigarette in hand. He knows what’s coming next – a request to move. “I’m doing what I can to stay out of trouble,” he tells the sergeant.
It’s the first step of an old dance. Russell and Gracy have all the moves down. If police force Russell from one spot, he just moves to another. Arrests are a last resort because jail time does little. He’ll come straight back. “We got human services out and they put him in a motel. It solved my problem for two weeks,” Gracy says, “until he started having guests. So he’s back.”
Seattle has hundreds of people like Russell living downtown on sidewalks, in parks, and under bridges. Mayor Ed Murray, in his 2015-16 budget, has proposed spending an additional $3 million over the next two years to rapidly rehouse people who end up homeless and create additional capacity at homeless shelters, among other measures.
Gracy and his community police team at the West Precinct mix with the homeless daily, urging them to go to shelters, asking them to move. They prod them to seek help from friends, family, social services and query them about mental health and drug problems.
The team, which has six officers including Gracy, has to balance the needs of a vulnerable population of homeless people downtown with laws that dictate where they can and can’t hang out. The officers also must respond to concerns raised by tourists, businesses and other city residents who fear for their safety.
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