Woodland Park Encampment Drawdown

In the spring of 2022, four months of work at Woodland Park culminated in the highest number of homeless residents moving out of an encampment and into shelter in the City’s history. Throughout the process, my office gave updates on the homeless encampment draw down at Woodland Park. It’s important to note that at Woodland Park, we applied the same human-centered model that was successful at Ballard Commons. In this blog post, you will find more in-depth information about Woodland Park and how we were able to help so many people inside. We removed the encampment by connecting people with shelter that met their needs and gave people the time they needed to collect and move their belongings before temporarily closing the park.

Our phased homelessness outreach plan at Woodland Park ended in May of 2022, and over the four months of intensive outreach work, we moved 89 people out of the park and into shelter, transitional or permanent supportive housing. This is the largest number of people connected with shelter and services through the process of an encampment removal in city history.
In January of 2022, a By Name List was created, which is similar to a census, where the outreach team met and learned the names of everyone living in the park, and what their most basic needs were and what type of shelter would be their preference. In February of 2022, the needs assessment was completed, and people began moving inside and out of Woodland Park. This encampment removal’s timeline was dictated by shelter availability, as we did not have shelter expansion during this time. This extended the amount of time it took, as compared to if we had shelter expansion occur during the phased response. During this time, more people moved into the park who were not on our original census, also known as the By Name List because they wanted access to shelter beds.

In the last two weeks before the end of Phase III, we surged our efforts to account for everyone living in the park, including those who had arrived at the park since the By Name List was created. In the last week of Phase III, we moved 49 people inside, including 27 people on the last day and that included providing logistics, like driving people from the park to shelter, further ensuring people’s needs were met. On that final day, the outreach team was working hard to get everyone into shelter who was at the park. This experience reinforced lessons we knew going in – this work’s success is dependent on adequate shelter availability and being able to match people to shelter that fits their needs.

Mayor Harrell’s office and I worked collaboratively with several different agencies and with neighbors for months to reach a positive resolution. This collaboration allowed for a unified team of governmental and non-governmental agencies to focus on getting people inside and return the park to its designed use. This is local government at its best, when it is collaborative and transparent.

We would not have been able to shelter and house 89 people without the partnership with Evergreen Treatment Services – REACH, the Phinney Neighborhood Association, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, the City’s Unified Care Team, and Mayor Harrell’s Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington’s leadership.

I am confident that the phased approach model we used at Woodland Park and Ballard Commons, which gives professional outreach workers the time to build relationships and assess individual needs, contributed to this large number of people accepting shelter and housing. I believe this model will stand the test of time and be used as a model for getting people inside across the city. We helped people inside by connecting on a human-level, and identifying what folks needed to come inside.

We removed the encampment by connecting people with the shelter that met their needs, and we gave people the time they needed to collect and move their belongings along with the resources they needed to get to and check into shelter. This included driving people to the shelter, watching over their belongings while checking in, and assisting them to get their belongings to the shelter they checked into.

Lessons Learned

The pandemic ended our use of basic congregate shelter, which is an important and positive step. Now our base shelter option is 24/7 enhanced shelter which provide more options for pets, space to leave your possessions, and places to stay with your partner. This is a better model than what we have relied on previously. Additionally, we know people most desire a personal space – a shelter or housing option that has four walls and a door the person can lock. We do our best to match a person with their first choice of shelter, but unfortunately that is not always possible.

Candidly, our city does not have the shelter capacity we need – and we are doing more now than ever before. Our shelter availability is dependent on the housing resources we fund from permanent supportive housing to very low-income housing. Last year was the first year we met our target of $200 million per year invested in housing and this year we are meeting the goal again by investing $250 million in housing. This is due to the JumpStart Seattle tax, Mandatory Housing Affordability program, Seattle’s Housing Levy, and Federal Covid relief funding. We cannot lose sight of funding our housing needs – and we need to scale up our shelter capacity while permanent housing is built.
I want to thank all the outreach workers, Clean Cities team, Human Services Department, and Seattle Parks and Rec for their efforts in the park. It is difficult, challenging, often thankless work that goes unnoticed by many, so I want to give them the public recognition they deserve. Because after four months of intensive outreach, an unprecedented 89 individuals living in tents and RVs in Woodland Park were successfully connected to available shelter as well as services. Thanks to trained, professional outreach workers from the city’s HOPE Team and REACH, these referrals helped people secure safer and more stable living conditions.