On November 27, we got a late report that We Heart Seattle was going to do what they called a “clean-up” at the park we regularly visit with supplies and services. One of our volunteers went quickly to the park and reported this:
By the time I got there, We Heart Seattle had maybe twenty volunteers and had already been around several areas and were picking up right next to [C] and [A]’s tent. They had not checked with [C], who was surprised when I told her that We Heart Seattle was right behind her tent. [C] went out to try to manage the situation and told Andrea Suarez of past instances of stuff being taken and folks being angry. However, We Heart Seattle had enlisted another resident of the park to give permission to take stuff in the shared area near his own tent; so we didn’t feel we could intervene too heavily, even though it was a shared space and they had not asked permission of [C] or others who shared that area. [C] had to save some of her own stuff. At one point, [C] also asked We Heart Seattle to stop but they refused.
I went around to warn others, but lots of folks were not home. Another location had been cleared out; I later found the owner who was sleeping elsewhere and confirmed that We Heart Seattle had not asked for her permission. At another place, they took some stuff that looked burned; however, when I asked if they had permission to take the stuff away, they lied anyway and said that they had asked permission. When I asked “From whom?”, Andrea Suarez pointed some distance away and said “From those guys over there.” I happened to know that the owners were not onsite that day, and I went to ask “those guys over there” whom I also know, and “those guys” told me that they gave no such permission.
I warned some other people and then saw the We Heart Seattle group clustered around the storage tent of someone I know. I had tried to check in with him earlier and I knew he was not onsite that day. From some distance away, I loudly asked the We Heart Seattle people whose permission they had to take the stuff. They answered by pointing across the park to a different set of “those guys” — this time to some imagined people maybe 100 yards away, nowhere near where they were interfering. When I told them at high volume that it was my friend’s stuff and that I had already checked and he wasn’t home, they stopped and, when demanded, dropped the bags and moved away.
We heard from a couple of their volunteers, who are apparently new, that they were sorry for the mistake and they would learn and correct it. They got defensive when we pointed out that it’s part of a repeated pattern of harm.
So on that one day, there were at least four different sites in the park where We Heart Seattle picked up personal belongings without asking permission of residents living there.