Historical Analysis of Seattle's Homeless

Essay, 2016

8 Pages

Free online reading

A Historical Analysis of

Seattle’s “Jungle”

University of Washington

Bethany Davis

November 26, 2016

“There is something about poverty that scares people”-David Delgado

“Hooverville is the abode of the Forgotten Man” -Jessie Jackson

10,047 people were counted in January 2015 in the City of Seattle through the One Night Count as being without housing. This included women, children, men, elderly and disabled, along with people with substance abuse and mental health challenges. These individuals were counted in shelters, empty buildings, on the sidewalks outside, and in encampments, such as the Jungle. This historical analysis gives a background history of homelessness in Seattle, the institutional marginalization of individuals without housing, the nature and consequences of sweeping homeless encampments, as well as drawing tensions of homelessness in social work and what this means for social work today. If we continue to diagnose homelessness as a social disease and attempt to “cure” homelessness through marginalization of people and encampment sweeps, then individuals will continually return to the encampments with greater resentment toward Seattle’s community, causing a greater divide of wealthy and poor in our economy because of the dire need of a mediator to reconnect unhoused persons to the community.

The Jungle is a greenbelt near Beacon Hill that has been recently swept which involved authority figures clearing out belongings due to shooting in January, drawing attention to itself. The Jungle has been mysterious to Seattleites for some time, sheltering an average of 300 people per year. It has been reported that people started living in the Jungle in the 1930’s. Firearms, food and drugs, and were purchased and traded between individuals. The Jungle sits next to Beacon Hill and below Interstate 5. “We have a sense of unity,” Brandie Osborne expressed about the Jungle at a forum sponsored by Seattle’s Real Change paper (Demay, 2016). “You can’t do that alone in a shelter where they throw your ass out at 6 a.m.(Demay, 2016).” Many members of the Jungle spoke proudly and profoundly at the forum. These individuals empowered themselves to speak out their own stories, with the support of each other, validating their individual voices. People also expressed their concerns about how challenging it is to struggle with sobriety “when you’re trying to figure out where you’re going to sleep” (Demay, 2016). The term the Jungle, creates a parallel between animals and people. It is not surprising it is a common name for homeless encampments, such as the Jungle in Calais, a recently bulldozed migrant camp in Northern France(Schaeffer). This camp housed individuals attempting to reach England through the English Channel by way of hitchhiking through cargo trucks.

During the Great Depression, shacks along Seattle’s waterway,, also known as “Hooverville”, were built to house out-of-work lumberjacks. Hooverville shacks did not have electricity, heat, or water, and varied in sizes. Gas tanks from old cars were used as stoves. Jessie Jackson, who was appointed as the Mayor of Hooverville by members, accounts for his time living in a shack by the waterfront, stating that businessmen downtown “did not know us.” Seattle officials deemed the shacks to be “unfit,” and cleared the camps with cans of kerosene and torches (Jackson, 1938). A few months, later, city administration approved the building of the shacks if they passed inspection. Jackson stated that the name Hooverville was “given to sarcasm of President Hoover, and has clung to the place ever since” (Jackson, 1938, p. 3).

Skid Road, now known currently as Yesler Way, was an area populated with white men native to Seattle, many in the paused lumber industry during the Depression and many struggling with alcohol addictions while living on the streets. Skid Road was an extension of Hooverville, much like the Jungle is today. Under the tent of the Depression, individuals living in Hooverville and especially Skid Road were being diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) at a skyrocketing rate due to the cold climate and living situations (Lerner, 1996). In 1910, TB was the leading cause of death in Seattle (Lerner, 1996). The city of Seattle wanted to control the rate of TB through social diagnoses and by coercing individuals on Skid Road into sanatoriums to “purify” them of TB. To keep individuals in sanatoriums instead of allowing them to leave with antibiotics and go back to work, Seattle officials maintained the social constructs of segregating the “sick” by providing psychiatrists to “assist” them in taking care of themselves (Lerner,1996). Leaning on eugenic ideology, individuals were thought to pass on unhealthy characteristics to their offspring, eugenicists demanded sterilization and “mandatory segregation” of deemed unfit individuals to decrease reproductive rates (Lerner, 1996). The Seattle Anti-Tuberculosis League in the 1920’s used eugenic terminology as a foundation to create the structure of public health (Lerner, 1996). Health authorities overtly and aggressively expressed the danger they believed Skid Road alcoholics represented because they were not cooperating with TB “therapy” (Lerner, 1996). With this information, I can’t help but see how individuals unhoused were metamorphosed as homeless “patients” and the cycle of attempting to segregate the “sick” from the “healthy”, cradling a social tension that we see today. The social tension found here lies between the viewing individuals in the social work realm as patients in contrary to viewing them as people. The fearful ideology of marginalizing people by grouping individuals to “protect” other individuals from their poverty takes away their humanity and their individual liberties. This is accomplished by way of oppression of individuals living on the streets, where they are a “disease” that can only be cured if we make them disappear or create societal barriers. We find that overlooking environmental factors of an individual’s state of poverty and targeting personal characteristics is based on beliefs rooted in capitalism and the Manifest Destiny. It is scarier to focus on environmental factors that can potentially affect every person that can lead to poverty rather than contribute to a person’s faulty characteristics.

On November 2, 2015, Mayor Ed Murray declared Seattle to be in a “state of emergency” due to the homeless crisis. This created a sense of urgency to get individuals off the streets, out of homeless encampments, and into temporary housing. There have been protests of the encampment sweeps and many groups in conflict of being in support or against the Jungle. Individuals expressed their feelings of being unsafe around Jungle residents, and at the same time, many Jungle inhabitants felt safe for the first time. The pressure on Mayor Ed Murray to address the Jungle increased by surrounding neighbors in the Beacon Hill area after the shooting on January 26, 2016.

David Delgado, a MSW from the University of Washington, sat down with me in a coffee shop early one morning to discuss his views of what happened in the Jungle and what is currently happening in the homeless community of Seattle. Delgado has personal experience with homelessness that has impacted him to advocate and speak for those individuals that are “off the grid”, and believes that “system resistant people need the most help”. The “social death” individuals feel they face with homelessness has driven him to collaborate with City Hall and authorities regarding resources and sweeps, as well as reach out to HBO to document encampments in order to shed light on the matter of homelessness and give people a voice. Delgado currently works as an advocate for a new unsanctioned encampment, “The Edge”.

Organizations such as REACH and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission were funded by the city to provide case management and shelter services during the sweep of the Jungle. Delgado explained that the media portrayed individuals refusing help, out of defiance of having to leave the Jungle. According to Delgado, many people that wanted to go to shelters or other sanctioned encampments were unable to, because they were previously barred, which is why they moved to the Jungle (D.Delgado, personal communication, November 21, 2016), .

When asked about the effects of the sweep on the homeless community, David appeared to not be shaken by the Mayor’s decision: “I’m not worried about the sweeps. People will find a place to sleep or come back to the Jungle. What worries me is the system that conducts the sweeps”. Delgado explained that this year holds the highest number of encampment sweeps in history, ironically during a time with the highest amount of unhoused individuals in Seattle.

After the sweep of the Jungle, the city “re-mapped” the encampment for individuals by creating a smaller space. Delgado explained to me that “the Jungle is like a neighborhood, you have people in this group, and people in that group. Violence broke out” during the re-mapping period because gang affiliated “groups were pushed together that don’t belong”. Delgado spent time in New York studying gang relations and social violence: “You can’t just mix groups of people because it’s more convenient for you: It’s dangerous”. When asked about the marginalization of individuals living on the streets, Delgado talked about the hand that certain conservative groups have in “mobilizing the homeless”, because “there is something about poverty that scares people”.

Many would be surprised to know that there have been many sweeps of the Jungle. Back in 1998, Seattle was experiencing crime in neighborhoods by inhabitants of the Jungle. The sweep that followed the crimes called for a creation of 3 tent cities. The son of former Mayor Charles Royer, stated that the sweep was necessary because the “hobo camp had become overrun with drug dealers and prostitutes who plague the Beacon Hill neighborhood”. City council members wanted to express that this was “not a campaign against the homeless”, but the “criminals” that are involved in the Jungle and the “new breed” not being cooperative (Martin, 2003).

In January 2016, State Senator Reuven Carlyle’s proposed legislation to set aside $1,000,000.00 to build fence surrounding the three-mile radius of the Jungle in order to keep people out, and was approved in 2016. Washington State Department of Transportation approved the plan to build the fence and flush out other encampments. None of the funds will be used for outreach or assisting individuals in temporary housing (McNichols, 2016). WSDOT received a lot of pushback from City Council members; people were not happy with the proposition of a fence. According to City Council member Deborah Juerez, building a million dollar fence is “insane”, creating no real solution to the homelessness crisis, and is “offended” by the idea (Oxley, 2016). I believe this type of physical marginalization gives the message that unhoused individuals are “unwanted”, “dirty”, and “different”, and creating physical barriers can cause one to feel more alone than ever before. This mindset perpetuates the stigma around homelessness and prevents individuals from receiving care and forming a healthy relationship with the community of Seattle.

An infuriated crowd appeared at Seattle Hall to discuss the homeless encampments. After Bill Bryant received a standing ovation for declaring an intolerance to camping outside, a woman stood up, and spoke her truth (Young, 2016). Sherly Minawa attended the forum to speak on behalf of the residents of the Jungle, which she joined after her RV was stolen. Her words in response to the Jungle sweep silenced the complainants for a moment, stating, “You want me to be you. I was you once. But something happened” (Young, 2016). This statement is a product of tension in grouping and attempting to change individuals that are unhoused in order to “fix” their personal components to change the societal economic status. This history of diagnosing to change our society leaves Seattle at a dead end. The practice of criminalizing homelessness and viewing it as a social disease is deviously disguised as a solution in our society, but it is in key partnership with keeping the cycle of homelessness in motion. When we only want to see certain parts of an individual as existing elements that we want to change, we reject the individual as a whole, which is what we need to be fully accepting of. This is our tragedy. These are the rocks we throw that kill people slowly, without evening realizing we are holding them. The tension between societal responsibility and social control of marginalized individuals is formed when our society thinks that we can decide which individuals are the deserving poor by evaluating someone’s disparities based on our judgements. Poverty is often attributed to someone’s character. Lack of housing is frequently said to be due to “laziness” and “lack of planning”. Most people do not want to be fixed; they want to be supported, to be told “you belong”.

Maxwell Baker, an Urban Development researcher with the University of Washington has proposed temporary solutions to counter the idea of encampment sweeps and to work realistically with shelter accessibility. According to Maxwell, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development stated in a city hall meeting about low income housing:

“Although efforts continue to provide low- income housing and managed temporary spaces in churches and public buildings, such resources are currently inadequate to meet the needs of all homeless persons and are not likely to address the needs of all homeless persons in the near future. Temporary shelters are typically available only during the worst environmental conditions including snowstorms and freezing weather (Baker, 2016)”

Baker proposes that the City allows for encampments using vacant land as a temporary solution. The 1,600 shelter beds are not adequate in providing shelter for the unhoused. Due to the lack of low income housing in Seattle, and the “slower increase of household income in comparison to housing prices” the system is not built and able to provide for those living on the streets (Baker, 2016).

Poverty can be hidden, or blatantly in the open. When we do see it, it may be shocking to us at first. As social workers, the tension lies using clinical and non-clinical perspectives in working with individuals in poverty. When do we enter encampments and intervene? How do we know that's our role? We can see through the homeless encampment sweeps that it may not be beneficial to relocate individuals. The homeless crisis is not the sole issue, instead it may be system responsible for handling the crisis.

Forcing individuals to move after the sweep of the Jungle violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which entails that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State” (1948) . The motive of attempting to relocate a group of individuals in order to change their physical state of poverty may initially appear to be liberating for someone in poverty, but in the long run doesn’t satisfy the needs of the individual.

For the social work profession, this means it is our responsibility to identify forms of systematic oppression that may be disguised as “curing” groups of people (Lerner, 1996). Much more is needed than placing a Band-Aid on poverty so that society can reach its baseline of being comfortable. The tension that we see here is social control in relocating unhoused persons, in contrast with what is needed, social revolution. Today, social workers are being challenged to revolutionize the system, not just be a part of it. Leaders may attempt to “protect” the community, but are building a barrier, creating outsiders. Social workers now have the responsibility to detect eugenicist ideology in local, state, federal actions that push down the already-marginalized individuals.

The tension between social control and social revolution is a foundation for the controversy of encampment sweeps. My hope is that social workers have enough guts to earnestly push back on the eugenic force that is shoving people further into the margins. We must know that this eugenic ideology is a lie, a divisive strategy, a carefully planned poison. Through time, resistance, and listening to the unheard, my vision is to bring those who are seen as outcasts back into the community of Seattle.


Delgado, D. ( 2016, November 21) Personal Interview

Jackson, J (1938) The Story of Seattle’s Hooverville. Excerpt from Social Trends in Seattle term paper. Schmid, C.F. & Trumbull, A.D.. University of Washington. 1944

Beckman, D.(2016, April 8) “1M fence for the Jungle? State officials not so sure”

Retrieved from Seattle Times Website

Delmay, D.(2016, June 3) “Hundreds pack forum to hear about lives of 'Jungle' residents”

Retrieved from Seattle Post-Intelligence website.

Lerner, B.H. (1996) “On what authority is this being done?” Proquest Dissertation Publishing

Martin, J.(2003, October 19) “Crime in Homeless Camp Sparks Cleanup”

Retrieved from http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com

Westheat, D. (2016, October 16) “For Aid workers, Jungle sweep a success” Retrieved from Seattle Times Website

Young, B.(2016, October 14) “Homeless camping prompts emotional Seattle city hall hearing” . Retrieved from Seattle times Website.

UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III), available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3712c.html [accessed 1 December 2016]

8 of 8 pages


Historical Analysis of Seattle's Homeless
Social Work
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historical, analysis, seattle, homeless
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Bethany Davis (Author), 2016, Historical Analysis of Seattle's Homeless, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/351570


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