11 months ago, the so-called Lawn Mower man — Charles Woodard – was terrorizing Ballard neighbors. Ear-splitting machinery, round-the-clock music, and yard equipment at his makeshift camp spilled onto the sidewalk. Three vehicles and two wooden sheds packed with lawnmowers littered the landscape.
Despite neighbors’ repeated pleas to city leaders for help and shelter placement for Woodward, they were met by inaction. Locals around Eighth Avenue Northwest and Northwest 49th Street were ignored by Seattle’s homeless outreach team, the mayor’s office, and the office of their councilmember, Dan Strauss.
Now, an update from The Dori Monson Show: Woodard is off the streets after getting support and finding a job through non-profit staffing Uplift Northwest and We Heart Seattle – a “boots-on-the-ground, grassroots coalition” that started with a group of Northwest Seattle neighbors and has since expanded citywide.
“Our team just managed to crack his code, so to speak,” We Heart Seattle founder Andrea Suarez told Dori. “We came up with a solution. We’re not very clinical. We just treated him like the adult human being we knew him to be.”
Once they discovered that Woodard already had connections with Uplift Northwest, formerly the Millionaire’s Club, and that he had a driver’s license, We Heart Seattle offered him a driving job on the spot.
“What we offered him worked for him and worked for us,” Suarez told Dori’s Tuesday listeners. Once he got back on his feet, she said, Woodard opted to return to his family, who welcomed his arrival in Arizona.
With more than $10 billion spent in Seattle and King County by other government-supposed organizations and programs, Dori asked, why have you found success for people like Woodard and others?
“There is nothing compassionate about letting people languish in the street … living in squalor,” Suarez said. “Our approach has always been a work-first approach.”
Other organizations, she said, leave homeless people on the street because they are told “don’t be assertive. Only ask if they want treatment if they ask you first.”
Since their start, she added, We Heart Seattle volunteers have cleaned more than 250 tons of trash – including 20,000 needles – from city parks and streets while helping nearly 165 people get off living on the streets.
Given this approach, Dori asked, “are you still on the outs” with government leaders and what many refer to as a homelessness industrial complex?
Housing providers give her volunteers a “thumbs up,” Suarez said. Despite still being at odds with some government leaders, she said her group is looking forward to its second meeting with King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office.
“We were really intrigued with our civic engagement model – clean-up with outreach,” she said. “We’re optimistic about that collaboration.”
Listen to Dori Monson weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.