The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School


The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School


The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School


Sweeping the Homeless for Special Events

MLB All-Star Game, Taylor Swift Concert Displace Unhoused People

As locals and tourists alike ventured to Downtown Seattle for the upcoming MLB All-Star game on July 7, the city was noticeably different. 

Jackson B. ’25, who had family friends from North Carolina visiting the weekend before the game, had prepared them for Seattle’s large homeless population around the area. However, when he got there, “they had vanished.”

But the homeless population of downtown Seattle had not vanished. Formerly covered in a scene of tarps and tents, the neighborhoods leading up to T-Mobile Park, where the All-Star game was held, had been swept clean. The newfound cleanliness of SODO, the neighborhood south of Downtown, came at a cost that homeless people have been paying for decades. Encampment sweeps, the clearing of a homeless encampment by outreach workers and legal enforcement, are often thrust upon already struggling communities in an effort to ready a city for tourists, like those coming to Seattle for the All-Star Game. This forced relocation is just one more thing for homeless people to worry about — people who often face harassment by housed people and cops, alongside the challenge of struggling to meet daily needs of shelter, food and water. 

The newfound cleanliness of south downtown Seattle (SODO) came at a cost that homeless people have been paying for decades.

“The city comes through with this big coordinated effort with dozens and dozens of workers who are not there to help them but to throw all their stuff away…From the perspective of homeless people, it’s one more ‘f*** you’ from the world,” said Jay Jones, co-founder and member of Seattle’s Stop the Sweeps chapter, an organization advocating for the abolishment of encampment sweeps.  

From the perspective of homeless people, it’s one more ‘f*** you’ from the world.

— Jay Jones

Jones’ specific chapter of Stop the Sweeps has only been around since 2021, but encampment sweeps have happened since the early ’90s. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandated a pause in the sweeps in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, but that suddenly ended in the spring of 2021, when Seattle city police performed a sweep on Miller Park in Capitol Hill. 

The city of Seattle maintains that the increase in encampment sweeps surrounding SODO in the days leading up to the All-Star Game was simply a correlation. The Seattle mayor’s office did not respond to Tatler’s request to comment, but spokesperson Lori Baxter previously told the press, “The City’s homelessness response has had a steady and consistent focus on SODO over the last year and a half due to a high concentration of RVs and tents.” But for Jones, the encampment sweeps had nothing to do with a “consistent focus on SODO” and everything to do with reputation.

But for Jones, the encampment sweeps had nothing to do with a “consistent focus on SODO” and everything to do with reputation.

“Seattle doesn’t want to be seen as this place with rampant economic inequality. Seattle doesn’t want to be seen as this place with this huge housing issue,” Jones said. 

It’s important to note that Jones believes this to be especially true for events that draw in tourists like this summer’s MLB All Star-Game and Taylor Swift concert. Bringing up the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, Jones compared China’s controversies to our own: “We loved to criticize them back in 2008 for covering up homelessness and other inequities. But it’s not like [Seattle’s] any different.”

Seattle has claimed in the past that these sweeps, which cost the city tens of millions of dollars each year, hold value for those on the streets by “sweeping” them into transitional housing or tiny homes. 

But the services offered, according to Jones, who talks to homeless individuals during the encampment sweeps, are “less than adequate.” Indeed, he described knowing people who “had died in tiny house villages, and not be[en] discovered for over a week.”  

“The sad thing is,” Jones pointed out, “was that for some people, being swept is your best way of getting into housing because for that individual, there lies a small chance.” Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and heartbreak and frustration at what could’ve been an opportunity for housing follows alongside the trauma of experiencing an encampment sweep. Jones noted that one man he met was particularly desperate for housing — for the past few years, the man had talked to case workers and city officials who assured him that he was “for sure” going to be moved into housing before summer. 

“How can I get inside?” he asked Jones. “They told me I’d be in before the summer, but we’re already halfway through.”

Beyond lacking the available housing necessary to make these encampment sweeps legal, Seattle’s actions are making it even harder to access already established resources. 

Because homeless people often don’t have access to regular cell phones, case workers trying to move homeless people into housing can’t call their clients. Instead, they have to find them. Encampment sweeps, forcing homeless people to constantly be on the move, makes their job even harder. 

“I have a friend who’s a case worker, trying to find housing [for the homeless]. After an encampment sweep, half of her job was just finding all of her clients again,” Jones said. 

Alongside Real Change and Action Network, Stop the Sweeps Seattle has created a new coalition called “Services, not Sweeps,” where they hope to advocate for the banning of encampment sweeps during extreme weather — particularly during winter. Stop the Sweeps works alongside these organizations to shift the public’s opinion of encampment sweeps, and, to those who believe that sweeps are a possible solution to homelessness, Jones would like to make one thing clear: “It’s a farce that [the sweeps] serve the people living outside, because you don’t need to sweep people to offer them shelter services.” 

Events such as the MLB All-Star Game or the Taylor Swift concert come with costs, but the real costs aren’t parking fees, transportation, or even ticket prices. In 2022, Real Change estimated the city of Seattle conducted over 943 encampment sweeps — 80% of which qualified as “obstruction sweeps,” meaning homeless individuals were provided no notice, help, nor housing. For many, the real, often unacknowledged cost of these events isn’t the price of a ticket: it’s the little housing stability they have left.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Reagan R. '25, Life & Culture Editor

Comments (0)

All Tatler Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *