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Everett protest demands coronavirus protection for homeless

By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

EVERETT, Wash. – A group of protesters gathered outside of the Wall Street Building on Wednesday, August 5 to stand in solidarity with the unsheltered community during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Protesting that people experiencing homelessness have access to a specific area to shelter in place during the coronavirus crisis, participants demanded that the City of Everett “stop the sweeps” and authorize the development of temporary emergency encampments.

Snohomish County residents Leslie Brown and Laura Reed organized Wednesday’s event, demanding that the Everett City Councilmembers compose a system that addresses how the inability to shelter in place puts the unsheltered population at risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

“What’s your plan Everett?” Brown posed to the crowd through a megaphone. “I want to call upon the City of Everett and [Snohomish] County and ask them what’s the plan. What is your plan to protect the community from infection, what is your plan for permanent and sustainable housing?” 

On Wednesday, July 29, the Everett City Council tabled Councilmember Liz Vogeli’s proposed emergency amendment expediting the city’s permitting process for homeless encampments, reducing the 45-day notice requirement to one week. Vogeli presented the initiative as a temporary solution allowing people experiencing homelessness the ability to swiftly shelter in place during the pandemic. 

“If you don’t give them one place, they’re all over the place,” said Vice President of the Second Chance Foundation Jason Cockburn. “They disperse in front of the stores, they disperse in front of the gas stations, they’re out in front of your businesses.”

The continuous dismantlement of encampments is harmful to public health, says Reed, explaining that their removal during the pandemic imposes an increased risk of virus contraction to the unsettled population. 

According to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the start of the pandemic, “if individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are” as “clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community,” which “increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

Cockburn and Robert Smiley, Director of the Hand Up Project have been working together to find a temporary location providing a limited number of people a safe environment to stay and access the services they are ready to receive. They were hopeful Vogeli’s temporary amendment would pass, already having a prospective agreement with the United Church of Christ in Everett to establish a temporary transitional eight-tent encampment. 

Protesters plan to continue to hold reoccurring public demonstrations every Wednesday until the 45-day waiting period for the approval of Cockburn and Smiley’s encampment passes. 

“We must stand together and fight for the voiceless,” said Brown. “That’s why we’re here today, and why we’re going to continue to be here when the city council has their meetings and we’re going to demand accountability.”

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