For what migrant families estimate to be the seventh or eighth time since they arrived in the region, hundreds of Venezuelan, Angolan, and Congolese refugees are asking the local government to pay for housing so that they and their children do not have to sleep outside for another night. This time, the migrants worry the City of Seattle may respond with handcuffs rather than housing. 

The City’s not doing a good job assuaging those fears. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Mayor's spokesperson has not said if they will sweep. 

Update, 7:45 pm: KOMO reports that “the camp is being broken down after a donor paid for another 11 days at the Quality Inn in Kent.”

On Tuesday night, about 300 migrants, including 70 children, set up tents in the tennis court at the Garfield Community Center in Seattle after they got kicked out of their hotel rooms and community-funded short-term rentals. 

The group first made headlines when they started camping at Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila in December 2022. Since then, variations of the same group have bounced between the church, hotels, and tents in public spaces. 

In a Wednesday press conference, one migrant said that they did not camp out at the tennis court in “protest” but rather because they have nowhere else to go. They are more than happy to leave their encampment if it means going inside. 

On several occasions, state, county, and city governments have responded to the call to fund their housing, but those jurisdictions only provided enough money for the group to stay inside for a few weeks at a time. For example, in early February, the City paid for three more weeks of shelter for 90 families when other government funding dried up.

However, those time spans did not give the migrants enough time to secure the work permits they need to start paying for housing themselves, and the migrants’ struggle continues to underline what homelessness advocates have been arguing all along—temporary shelter does not make people un-homeless. 

A more permanent arrangement may be on the horizon. Earlier this year, the State Legislature allocated more than $30 million for shelter and resources for migrants and asylum seekers, but that money won’t be available until July. Another temporary infusion, about $1 million promised from King County, also has not made it out of bureaucratic purgatory. The migrants said that a religious group may give them $50,000, but that will only bring some of the group inside for just 10 nights. 

With the migrants camped out in Seattle for the first time, the responsibility for the migrant families and Garfield residents’ immediate safety and well-being seems to fall on the City of Seattle. However, the Mayor’s Office punted that responsibility. In an email to The Stranger, a spokesperson for the Mayor said, “We look to the state for their leadership with regard to shelter, funding, and additional assistance,” referencing the funds that will not be available until July. 

This morning, Council Member Joy Hollingsworth, who represents the Garfield neighborhood, tweeted that she was working to “address this situation immediately.” 

In a follow-up email, Hollingsworth said that her “heart goes out to the migrants and asylum seekers… However, the health and safety of youth and families in District 3 is my top priority. We need our community center open, the park clear and our schools safe.”

Like the Mayor’s Office, she went on to punt responsibility, saying, “This issue is bigger than Seattle. We do not have the resources to respond to this level of need.” She asked the State to urgently release funds and for King County “articulate a plan” for migrants in the region. 

At their press conference, migrants told the press that they have not heard from Hollingsworth yet. They didn’t even know she was interested in “address[ing] this situation.” Again, whatever that means. “[The City] sent a lot of police here, so if her version of ‘addressing’ the situation is sending a lot of police here to surveil and take pictures, then, yeah, she’s addressing it,” Jessica Rojas from the International Migrants Alliance, a grassroots group that advocates for migrants, refugees, and displaced people, told The Stranger

On top of the police presence, the migrants also said that a City employee told them they must leave. When asked if the City intended to sweep, the Mayor’s Office said, “We are evaluating next steps in this emerging issue. We understand that housing and shelter is the most critical need for families to find safety and stability.”

One migrant who spoke at the press conference, Garcia, said that for months they’ve lived always prepared to leave at a moment's notice. He emptied out his tote bag, showing that he keeps his shoes and toothbrush on him at all times just in case the government pushes them somewhere else. 

“This is no way to live,” Garcia said. 

Another migrant, Frank, said that he’s shocked, given how wealthy the United States is, that the State, County, and the City cannot find the money to end their suffering immediately. 

But Rosario Lopez Hernandez, who got arrested advocating for housing for the asylum seekers, did not seem surprised that the City doesn’t want to help. Despite earlier funding, the City of Seattle hasn’t been the friendliest to the migrants' cause. When migrant families and their allies came to City Hall to ask for more money in late February, Council President Sara Nelson silenced them in public comment. When they wouldn’t bend to Nelson’s authority, she ordered security to remove them and cops arrested six public commenters. 

The organizers said that maybe if the City spent less money on sending cops to the refugee encampment or arresting public commenters, then the 300 migrants wouldn’t have to sleep in a tennis court. 

But, hey, at least they sent port-a-potties: