In a park in the middle of a leafy, bohemian neighborhood where homes list for close to $1 million, a tractor’s massive claw scooped up the refuse of the homeless — mattresses, tents, wooden frames, a wicker chair, an outdoor propane heater. Workers in masks and steel-shanked boots plucked used needles and mounds of waste from the underbrush.
Just a day before, this corner of Ravenna Park was an illegal home for the down and out, one of 400 such encampments that have popped up in Seattle’s parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks. Now, as police and social workers approached, some of the dispossessed scurried away, vanishing into a metropolis that is struggling to cope with an enormous wave of homelessness.
That struggle is not Seattle’s alone. A homeless crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the West Coast, and its victims are being left behind by the very things that mark the region’s success: soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy that waits for no one. All along the coast, elected officials are scrambling for solutions.