Picking up trash is just the start of Little Saigon’s rescue plan

For a few hours last Saturday, Little Saigon was transformed.

Police walked and cycled around South 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street. Pressure from King County subway workers washed out the bus stop. Officials joined more than 100 volunteers in picking up trash.

The outpouring of attention came as Little Saigon’s struggles became too obvious for the local government to ignore. But shortly after the end of the day of service, life in the neighborhood returned to normal. Outdoor drug dealing and consumption, littering and a pervasive sense of chaos returned unabated.

It’s time for a permanent reset.

With homelessness, addiction and mental illness all playing a part in Little Saigon’s struggles, the City of Seattle and King County should step up their efforts to solve a chronic challenge: sanitation.

Trash cans no longer have to be filled to the brim. No more litter in the streets. More needles and more graffiti.

Of all the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing this small business district just a mile from City Hall, making the neighborhood clean and hospitable is a measurable and tangible goal. It is literally the least the government can do.

It would also fit in with community priorities and activities to reinvigorate Little Saigon.

Quynh Pham, executive director of Friends of Little Saigon, a group of community and business leaders advocating for the neighborhood, hopes to organize an ongoing monthly cleanup.

The response was overwhelming at the Jan. 15 “Operation Clean Street” event, sponsored by Friends, the City of Seattle, Starbucks and The Mission Continues, which helps veterans get involved in community service projects.

“People are tired of seeing what’s going on,” Pham said. “What interests me is not just to bring in politicians. The emphasis should be on the community.

Public safety remains an issue. Business owners have responded by installing wired fencing around their parking lots, and Pham said Seattle police have pledged to conduct additional patrols. But visible security has downsides if people don’t feel safe, Pham said.

Minh Đức Phạm Nguyễn, executive director of Helping Link, a social service agency dedicated to the Vietnamese community, said several businesses in the neighborhood pay money to local criminals so they don’t vandalize their stores or assault their clients. She was glad the elected leaders came to help for a day, but it’s a meaningless gesture if things go downhill immediately afterwards.

“Politicians need to engage,” she said. “It’s great that they got their photo-op, but what does that mean? Why do normal, hard-working people have to be second-class citizens?”

Seattle Utilities expanded the cleanup of illegally dumped trash and trash in Little Saigon last month, but more sanitation improvements need to be implemented. It would bring some order out of the chaos. This would create a more welcoming atmosphere. It would show visitors and residents that the government cares.

More importantly, it’s a tangible expression of progress as one of the city’s most fragile neighborhoods struggles to step back from despair.

About Julius Southworth

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