Nation & World

'Meth on the tombstones': Jewish cemeteries turned into dumps, Seattle families say

Two Jewish cemeteries in Seattle have become dumping grounds for homeless people camping in and near the sites, families have complained to city officials.
Two Jewish cemeteries in Seattle have become dumping grounds for homeless people camping in and near the sites, families have complained to city officials. Twitter

Family members who have loved ones in two Jewish cemeteries in Seattle are horrified that dirty drug needles, garbage — even human feces on gravestones — have turned the hallowed places into dumping grounds.

Prostitutes also reportedly work out of the woods nearby.

The problems have gone on for years but have recently gotten worse at Bikur Cholim and Historic Sephardic Jewish cemeteries, according to Q13 Fox in Seattle.

Cemetery managers and family members blame groups of homeless people that camp in and around the cemeteries.

"Groundskeepers come in on Monday morning and they find everything from a weekend of fun, which is needles on the ground, crystal meth on the tombstones," Ari Hoffman, a vice president of Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath Synagogue, told KOMO News in Seattle.

"This shouldn't be happening in civilized society. This shouldn't be happening to anybody, and imagine it's your loved ones there."

Jewish cemeteries across the country have been targeted by vandals in recent months. Last month New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide investigation after vandals toppled at least a dozen headstones at Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester, N.Y. There have been similar incidents in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

Families from the Seattle synagogues associated with the cemeteries told local media they've spent as much as $100,000 to handle the situation, including paying more for maintenance to clean up the messes. They've cut down trees near the back of the cemetery and installed lights to make it harder for prostitutes to do their business there.

They've reached out to the city for help and plan to file a grievance if nothing is done, they said.

Family members and groundskeepers went to the Bikur Cholim cemetery this week to talk about the problem with City Council member Debora Juarez but were disappointed when she sent two staff members instead, Q13 reported.

“My dad is a Holocaust survivor. He's buried in this cemetery, and he doesn't deserve this,” Elizabeth Rosen, who was at the meeting, told Q13.

Families complain that people living in camps have overrun the cemetery grounds and that some RVs have been parked nearby for years. One RV owner allegedly tapped into the cemetery’s electrical system. But some of the campers told KOMO they're not the problem.

"We take all our stuff all the time and we clean up other people's garbage,” one camper, Donald McPherson, told KOMO. “We've been here for six months and haven't had a complaint."

City officials know about what's going on there. The city's homeless response team reportedly visited the sites last week.

"There are more than 400 unsanctioned encampments throughout Seattle and the team only prioritizes encampments for removal that pose the most significant public health and safety impacts to both people living within the encampment and the surrounding community," city officials said in a statement.

They said the response team will keep reaching out to the homeless people in and around the cemeteries to find a solution, which can't come quick enough for the families with loved ones buried there.

After Q13 aired a story about the problems last month, some of the homeless camps nearby disappeared. “It's been cleaned up because of all the media attention. The people in the RVs and the people in the tents didn't like the media attention,” Hoffman told the TV station.

But he expects the campers and drug addicts to return.

“I was disturbed to hear of this latest manifestation of Seattle’s homelessness crisis, and I share the frustrations of our Jewish community members," Juarez told Q13 in a statement.