Seattle is holding a “Day of Service,” seeking volunteers to help clean up trash and graffiti

Seattle will host a citywide “Day of Service” next month with thousands of volunteer opportunities in dozens of locations, in an event that Mayor Bruce Harrell hopes will be a symbol of how his administration plans to clean up graffiti and beautify the city.

Rather than a budget increase or a renewed dedication to city resources, Harrell is appealing to citizens’ goodwill to help some of the smaller but most visible ills plaguing the city: trash, weeds, debris and graffiti.

On Service Day, May 21, more than 80 city-organized clean-up and volunteer events will take place across the city, from Lake City south to Rainier Beach; from Alki east to Lake Washington.

There are events to pick up trash in Ballard, clear trails in Jackson Park, work on community gardens in the Chinatown International District, sort donations at downtown shelters, remove invasive plants from Discovery Park, and tiny homes near the Build estuary of the Duwamish river.

Volunteer offers are also an incentive. Three volunteer hours can be applied to up to $50 in fines owed to Seattle City Court.

People can register as volunteers at seattle.gov/dayofservice.

Harrell, who has emphasized graffiti removal throughout his campaign last year, briefly took a roller to help cover a spray-painted wall in Little Saigon on Monday morning as he announced the day of the service.

“This will be symbolic of how we’re going to do things in our city,” Harrell said. “People want to help. Employers want to help, employees want to help.”

Anyone who volunteers for the day of service, Harrell said, will get two things: a sense of self-actualization that they did something about an issue rather than just complaining, and a t-shirt.

The city spends about $3.7 million annually on graffiti removal and employs about 15 full-time employees spread across several city departments dedicated to the problem. The city’s Find It, Fix It app received more than 31,000 graffiti cleaning requests over a nearly two-year period, covering 2020 and 2021.

Seattle Public Utilities also runs a program where the city supplies to anyone who wants to remove graffiti from private property.

“I’ll buy the paint and the brush and you can help us,” Harrell said.

He was asked what would prevent cleaned and painted walls and buildings from simply being re-written and re-sprayed.

“We paint, they mark, we paint…” Harrell said.

Harrell said he’s not sure yet if the city needs to spend more money on graffiti removal. He said he wanted to better understand the issue and graffiti culture by talking to people in the art community.

“It’s just not healthy,” Harrell said. “They deface someone’s building and where they work and where they live and where they play.”

Linh Thai, regional manager of a nonprofit that connects veterans with community service, helped paint over the graffiti-sprayed brick wall of Khang Hoa Duong, a herbalist and grocer in Little Saigon.

The wall illustrates the ongoing game of whack-a-mole that takes place between taggers and the city.

As recently as last year, the wall was a colorful mural of soaring parades carrying a red dragon. Then it was sprayed. Then the wall was whitewashed to cover up the graffiti. Then the whitewashed wall was inscribed again, in sprawling silver and black script.

Thai, who helped start a once-a-month neighborhood garbage pickup, and others covered the script in a generic taupe.

“You have mom and pop businesses like this just trying to survive,” Thai said. “Perceptions are real. We want to help the community deal with some of the persistent problems of crime and vandalism.”

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