Homeless community alongside campus

RVs behind Emerson Hall raise questions about student safety

Ella Beth Sessions, Staff Writer

Small and nestled in a neighborhood, it is easy to forget how close Seattle Pacific University’s campus is to the greater area of Seattle, but the settlement of about six recreational vehicles behind Emerson Hall and along Bertona Street has awakened both students, parents and SPU staff to the urban realities of being a Seattle college. 

The concerns rose to the front on Sept. 21 at 4:30 a.m. when roommates Landrey McCann and Delaine Polly woke up to screaming outside their first floor room.

McCann, a second year majoring in psychology, witnessed how a homeless man was aggressively yelling and running across the sidewalk and parking lot behind Emerson.

“We live on the first floor, so we face west out that way. We had our windows open and heard a bunch of commotion. He was just violently and aggressively yelling and throwing things at one of the RVs, like chairs and things,” McCann said. 

After seeing Seattle Police Department cars and SPU’s Office of Safety and Security vehicles enter the scene and talk to the man, Polly and McCann went back to sleep but were woken up again soon after.

Rvs parked along Nickerson, directly behind Emerson Hall. (Shianne Heeraman)

“A few hours later we heard more yelling and commotion outside our window on the first floor,” McCann said. “A group of them had returned back and made some more commotion, and OSS came back.”

Polly, a psychology major in her second year, relates how the group began searching and destroying one of the RVs on the road. A woman, presumably the owner of the trailer, showed up and attempted to stop the group.

“He would lunge at her and she would lunge back at him and he was kind of taunting her. She ended up walking off and he followed her and we didn’t hear him the rest of the night,” Polly said. “We saw the police the next day around that area and OSS told us to report anything so that they can make a case about it.”

For second year Mati Schumacher, a developmental psychology major living in Emerson, the RVs behind her residence hall do not pose a threat and have become part of the landscape.

“I feel safe. I’ve never had a problem with anyone living in the RVs down there. I’ve actually walked past with my family once or twice,” Schumacher said.

Similar sentiments are shared by Michelle Best, parent of a freshman at SPU.

“SPU is in the middle of the city, and they have an opportunity to engage in the community. Homeless people are part of the community,” Best said. “We’re not all from privilege and even if you are, we don’t all have support. It doesn’t mean that they’re dangerous.”

As a school counselor specializing in mental health, Best’s career and religious beliefs combine to affect her feelings towards the RVs near campus and homeless communities in general.

“I’m just hoping that [other parents] stop and go, ‘What can we learn from this and learn from Jesus about this?’ SPU is about living the life of Christ, and they miss it by saying [the homeless community] are not like us,” Best said.

An SPU alumni, Best participated in Urban Plunge as a student, in which she and others were given five dollars, a church to sleep in, and an opportunity to learn about Seattle’s homeless population. 

“We didn’t go there to see them, we went to experience and have empathy with what others were suffering with. We were there to get to know the homeless population and who they are as people,” Best said.

Best fears no danger at the hands of the nearby homeless people to her child and other students on campus. 

“Just because there are some homeless people on the streets? No, I’m not worried about her safety at all. She has not expressed to me at all feeling unsafe,” Best said. “They’re there because they need to be there, not to hurt our children. If she can share a sidewalk with them, good.”

Concerns for student safety remain prevalent. Because the RVs are parked on public property outside the official SPU campus, SPD is unable to take any serious action.

Yet McCann and Polly feel safe in the buildings due to the system of locks but are unsure about walking outside.

“I don’t know that I would be comfortable walking into the parking garage or that back parking lot by myself, especially after daytime, especially being a female student. It’s a little unsettling,” McCann said. 

However, measures are being taken to ensure students remain in a safe, coexisting community. OSS is a resource that is available for students at any time if they feel unsafe.

“Even when there’s nothing going on outside the RVs and outside Emerson, I’ve seen more OSS cars patrolling,” McCann said. “OSS does offer to escort you into the parking garage or into Emerson, and I think that’s a resource that can be used and talked about more.” 

The OSS emergency and non-emergency numbers can be found on SPU’s website.