Community Post

Neighborhood Gypsies

They’ve popped up a couple of times on the scanner: white vans with eclectic occupants and some involvement in the local drug trade. The latest example was yesterday at 4:43pm, and there was an earlier discussion about them back on January 25th. Based on the reports we have, their Ford-powered caravan really gets around, having been seen in varying parts of the neighborhood over the last year or more.

The people involved are pretty unforgettable. There are two females who wear a variety of flowing scarfs, sometimes in the keep-sand-out-of-your-face style more often seen in desert regions. One is usually sporting a huge medallion around her neck. It’s an 8-sided star design, at least a foot across, with a thick gold colored chain. The other female can often be seen wearing a painted football hockey helmet, sometimes including a face mask. There’s also a much less noticeable male that is part of the party, usually with headwear and scruffy beard.

A commenter put it well in the thread on 1/25: they seem to be involved in drug activity, but evidently that’s hard for police to catch them on. Other than that, they live out of the vehicles, but that isn’t illegal. The traffic they draw to the vans understandably makes residents nervous, and there’s other obvious issues such as bathroom facilities whenever someone is living in a vehicle in a residential area.

And incidentally, the drug activity isn’t just in the imagination of those that have reported them to the police. We heard the medallion woman’s name on the scanner yesterday, and a quick search of King County Jail bookings shows that she was arrested both in November 07 and January of this year for drug violations. She has also been arrested for driving without a license, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from driving the van around.

Yesterday police responded to check them out but ended up leaving without making any arrests. And the vehicles are operable so they tend to get moved before the 72 hour parking limits kick in.

We got an email today from a neighbor near their current location who asked an interesting question: what can and should be done about them? My only suggestion was the usual – call 911 if you see illegal activity, and call parking enforcement if a vehicle is sitting for more than 72 hours.

Now I know this post may rub some of our readers the wrong way. We definitely shouldn’t criminalize homelessness, and it’s a problem that needs social service solutions to address the root causes of poverty (although getting these particular people to take advantages of such services might be a completely separate challenge). But I’m guessing that there aren’t many in the neighborhood who would want people to be camped out in vans in front of their houses with a stream of drug traffic coming and going at all hours.

So the question is open for discussion. What, if anything, should be done to help out with our neighborhood gypsies?

0 thoughts on “Neighborhood Gypsies

  1. I don’t have any suggestions for a solution but they have parked directly in front of my house and smoked drugs right in front of me. They even waved hello while firing up their crack pipe. I was shocked and furious b/c my 2 year old son was with me.

    A few months later they camped out there for 48 hrs. I called the cops but found out that sleeping in the car isn’t illegal. Their tabs were up to date.

  2. Slash the tires

    The other issue is parking rules. Can we get a zoned permit in the area so we only allow 2 hour parking? I have a bunch of folks park in front of my house on Union and commute to work, and while I am sympathetic to their commuting challenges, over time not allowing commute parking would reduce traffic in the area.

    But can the city do this effectively without hurting real residents?

  3. Alright folks – all kidding aside, vigilanteism will get you sent to jail pretty quickly. And I’m pretty sure that even spraying someone with water will get you an Assault-3 charge if the victim wants to press the issue.

  4. Its crazy to think that it is alright to slash tires or spit on people just because they have a drug problem or park in your neighborhood.

  5. The ladies in the white van lived outside my house for about a month several years ago. I consulted the Community Police Team (as should you); they recognized them before I was half way through my first sentence – they are a neighborhood fixture and live all around the Central Area and First Hill. They seem to support themselves by small time drug-dealing and prostitution based out of their van.

    Their appearance is indeed bizarre and their actions can be unusual: we saw one woman spraying something smelly from an aerosol can in the outside air all around her van. I’ve heard tales of the van being broken and them pushing it around. They didn’t have it for a while and pushed their precious belongings around in a child’s stroller. I gather they will happily talk to you about the magical powers of the glass dodecahedron they carry around.

    But, in all seriousness: they live on the street (sanitation issues), engage in low level drug dealing and prostitution and are (by most standards) mildly deranged: they don’t appear to be an immediate physical danger to themselves or others.

    Those of us with home and in possession (we believe) of all our faculties, surely believe they would be happier and safer (as would we) if they received treatment and had a permanent home. It seems likely, after all this time, that somebody has tried to help them and has been rebuffed.

    In brief, they are a sad example of a frequent social problem in our society: the mildly mentally ill who refuse treatment and whom society are unwilling (for both economic and other reasons) to compel to receive the treatment and help that we believe they would benefit from.

    What’s to be done? Heck if I know. If we returned to 1950’s style mental heath treatment they would be locked up in a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” style secure facility. Would they or we be better off? Heck if I know!

  6. Hey, lets get an old van and go north of the ship canal and do the same thing? How long would that be allowed by the police there? We live in a containment zone! It is illegal for the city to discriminate how they enforce the law. Unless we sue we will always be a containment zone ( as it has for over 40 years) and the woman with the two year old will see this happen over and over and over……………

  7. Don’t slash tires. Maybe, along with your neighbors, interact the way some have. Find out if they have any family in the area. See if there is some — probably difficult to impossible to find these days — social services types who might break through?

    About zoned parking, residents who have something that proves they live in the area get a sticker that exempts them from the 2 hours limit.

  8. Back in the early days in the CD, they would have been helped. Not run off. Even 10 years ago, they would have had family with which to live. 30 years ago there would have been services.

    i’m extremely offended by these comments. Smacks of people who moved to a neighborhood where maybe they did not know where they were moving to? And then they get offended? Talk about nerve.

  9. I think it would be great if the city would create a zone (outside of a residential area) where people like this could live in their van, do drugs, sell drugs and prostitute themselves without getting bothered by the police (or concerned citizens). The area by Goodwill could work. There are lots of bus routes and few residences. I know it will never happen….but it would be great if it could.

  10. They already have its called the CD and the international district and it includes this area.

  11. What if every time they camped out someone in the CD pestered them to death about converting to whatever nutty religion comes to mind? They’d get no business, especially if all their customers were being pestered, too, and they’d get no rest! Try it sometime and see how long they stick around. :O)

  12. I have not seen these vans nor the inhabitants (at least not recently) but the two women, mother and daughter, with the large star medallions, have been residents off and on in Seattle for many years. (At least twenty) I remember them living temporarily on Pine and 13th. I believe they practice a religion of their own, which is what the stars (of David, I think) signify…
    Citizens who want to slash tires, squirt them with water, etc., have the wrong idea about how to deal with people with mental issues. We do need to watch to make sure they are not parked somewhere for longer than 24 hours, and if people see them smoking drugs, why aren’t they calling the police?

  13. Short term: be a good neighbor and request same. If you see blatant illegal behavior, call 911. In the case of these particular folks, it’s also helpful to say up front, “Hey, there are kids around/I don’t want to see your pipe.” I wouldn’t do that with many/most drug users in the neighborhood, but these women are approachable. Approach it like you would the neighbor teens throwing a loud party. Be polite, firm, and follow up with a call to the cops. If you don’t see anything illegal, be polite and let them live.

    Long term: Locking someone up in a mental institution doesn’t really make any of us “better off”. It helps breed an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and creates an environment rich for abuses.

    Setting up more housing like 1811 Eastlake, which has loosened requirements for current substance abusers, seems to help. In the case of 1811, the substance is alcohol. Not sure anyone in any zip code would be thrilled about having illegal substance users housed on their dime in their neighborhood.

    Except we already have that–without plumbing or other basic needs being met. We also have folks in private and public housing using a variety of illegal drugs that we’re all happy to ignore as long as we (or our children) don’t see it.

    More housing, with fewer barriers, would cut down on many of the safety issues. I agree the housing shouldn’t be confined to one area, but it’s also important that people live within access to the services they need and in an environment where they feel comfortable. I’d be unhappy if someone dumped me in Laurelhurst. I wouldn’t fit in, I’d be concerned about being judged, and in general it would feel wrong to me. And I’m white, employed, and (as far as anyone has let me know) possess all my faculties.