The Field of Dreams is a temporary housing community in Seattle, located at 747 S Royal Brougham Way. This is a WSDOT owned triangle of land. It has no residential neighbors. Several blocks of chain link fencing runs along Metro’s Atlantic Base to the west of the camp, to the east, a rear entrance to Seattle’s bridge maintenance facility. Above, concrete on and off-ramps bisect each other and the camp and provide some rain protection.
Original Field residents arrived in January, 2016. Most came to escape the violence and chaos endemic to the Jungle, a dusty swath of “greenspace” bounded and sheltered by I-5. That same month, a Jungle shooting would take two lives. The Field is in line with the northern border to the Jungle. At times, this land held as many as two hundred people who called it home. Currently the overnight population hovers around 75.
Tent city sweeps contributed largely to the creation of the Field. On November 2nd, 2015, when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency around homelessness, a consortium made up of the Seattle Department of Human Services, Seattle Public Utilities, WSDOT, the Seattle Police Department, King County Department of Corrections, as well as outreach workers from the Union Gospel Mission and REACH, were clearing makeshift residences across Seattle at a rate of nearly one per day.
Amidst well-documented confusion (by the Seattle Times), cleanup crews were advising people to move to the grassy plot of land residents would call the Field. In one instance, crews cleaning a site on block to the north of the Field instructed residents to move across the street to the south in order to protect their property.
Residents also elected to move to the Field. Many came to escape violence and chaos, which reigned in parts of the Jungle to the east.
Mayer Ed Murray made no significant changes to the city’s approach towards homelessness in the months immediately following his November 2nd declaration of a State of Emergency. The next time he would gather up reporters to make a major statement on homelessness, it was in May 2016. He was announcing plans to use force to evict over three hundred residents of the Jungle.
Down at the Field, residents kept order among themselves. There was an informal hierarchy. Campers enforced community expectations with regards to violence, which although unavoidable, was kept in check. Residents watched out for each other’s personal items. Informal systems of exchange appeared: residents traded labor for money, cigarettes for tarps and bicycle access for food. They also cleaned up. Which is not to say they cleaned up after themselves. Residents in fact took pride in maintaining their personal spaces. Their cleaning concerned mostly detritus left when short-term residents pulled up stakes leaving messes in their wake. In May 2016, sixty residents lived at the Field.
By August, the city had declared the Field a transitional housing site for ex-Jungle residents. Mayor Murray was reckoning with backlash against his hasty plans to clear the Jungle. In an attempt to “strike a balance between outreach and enforcement,” as a August 2016 Seattle Times article put it, the City would allow campers from the Jungle to relocate to the Field. Do we need to mention that no one from even one of the agencies who had lead residents to the Field ever came to consult them before designating their community as a stop-gap site?
Throughout the end of the summer and into the Fall, new residents arrived in large numbers. To appease existing residents, and in an attempt to guarantee a minimum level of hygiene, the city installed five portable toilets and two dumpsters. When the dumpsters and portable toilets were delivered, the Union Gospel Mission used hopefully used fluorescent orange spray paint to demarcate thoroughfares and an area for a communal cooking tent. This supporter personally counted at one time upwards of 150 residents in the camp at this time.
On September 14th, the same day that the Seattle City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee adopted the Mayor’s official plan to clear the Jungle and to fill the Field with its exodus, Field residents addressed council members in an effort to build communication lines (@22:00). Residents spoke about their life at the Field as well as ways that the city could help them achieve greater autonomy. Residents would return to the city council on December 14th, (@ 2:06:45), again on January 11th (@1:40:00)
Yet a result of the city’s declaring the Field a transitional site, the original residents of the Field saw their model of self-governance tested. They were now being called on to support hundreds of desperate people recently evicted from their homes. The dumpsters and portable toilets were the most visible and, as it happens, the only support that Seattle provided to the original residents.
When Seattle declared the Field a transitional site, it made a promise to residents: that the Field would be safe from eviction until a 24-hour navigation center was opened in Seattle. Representatives from the City’s public utilities department explained to Field residents that this navigation center would likely open in December of 2016 or January of 2017. Estimates now place the navigation center’s inauguration at May, 2017.
Despite the Field becoming overpopulated by new residents in the second half of 2016, you would be hard pressed to find a NIMBY in the group. Indeed, Seattle has exploited the residents’ core principle, which holds that all are welcome to make a go of it on this small plot of land. What’s more, Field residents are organizing to strengthen their self-governing infrastructure. Since September, residents have appeared at Seattle City Council Health and Human Services committee meetings to voice their concern over health, safety and governance problems at the Field. Residents also participate in Stop the Sweeps organizing meetings and in organized clean ups. They have a mail box in order to establish their existence and communicate with the world.
In February 2017, residents erected a Community Tent, known as the Sanctuary. This tent provides a meeting place and community room for residents and non-residents.