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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Seattle gives asylum-seekers living in Central District park notice to leave

By Anna Patrick Seattle Times

Seattle has posted notices at a Central District park saying that it will clear the area Thursday, indicating anyone still staying there in tents or outside will have to move.

The notice is the first directed at asylum-seekers who have been moving between a church, hotels, short-term rentals and parks as they await the legal ability to work in the U.S.

More than 1,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in the region in the last 1½ years, most converging on Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila, which has struggled to keep up with the influx of people needing shelter, food and support.

After an emergency weather event hit King County in January, hundreds of people were moved out of tents on the church’s property and placed in hotels and short-term rentals across South King County.

This triggered a splintering of asylum-seekers across the region and led to rolling evictions, as private donations or limited chunks of government funding were offered and then ran out.

Starting April 29, hundreds of people from Venezuela, Angola and Congo who have been living in private rentals and in the Kent Quality Inn ran out of private donations to cover their stay and set up tents in a grassy field at Seattle’s Powell Barnett Park.

At the time, King County and the city of Seattle said they had no funding to help them.

This week, the city of Seattle found money to move 45 families into a hotel in SeaTac as well as returning many families to the Kent Quality Inn, according to the motel general manager, Eli Min. The city said it plans to cover their stay until July 1.

That coincides with the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance receiving more than $25 million in funding with the intention of supporting asylum-seekers.

About 25 people remained at the Central District park Tuesday, Braxton said, though the park appeared mostly empty Tuesday afternoon.

Asylum-seekers still living at the park by 8 a.m. Thursday will be forced to leave by city staff, according to an encampment clearing notice posted on Tuesday.

“[The Unified Care Team] will provide anyone still remaining at the site at 8 a.m. on Thursday with the option to store any personal belongings and will conduct a thorough cleaning of the site,” Braxton said.

Braxton said city staff also encouraged people who were last living at the Tukwila church to return there.

Before Seattle got involved with helping families return to hotels this week, the Low Income Housing Institute, Refugee Women’s Alliance and the Riverton Park United Methodist Church worked together to move 103 people into temporary housing at the end of last week plus two families earlier in the week.

This trio of organizations was recently selected by King County to receive $750,000 to help them support the housing needs of asylum-seekers. It wasn’t their original intention to direct some of their King County funding to this group, according to Jon Grant, spokesperson for the group, but after people started living outside, they worked to find ways to help.

The $750,000 allocation is part of a larger $2 million grant that King County gave last month to four organizations with the goal of supporting the legal and housing needs of asylum-seekers living in King County.

Kristin Elia, spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine, said that contract negotiations are ongoing, but none of the four approved grant applications mentioned people who eventually moved to Powell Barnett Park.

She said that some organizations have indicated due to recent events that they would like to renegotiate a portion of where their funding is applied, but that these conversations are “ongoing.”