Last week, we reported that residents in Baker made a couple jarring discoveries in June in an alleyway behind Atomic Cowboy on Broadway. First, a resident spotted a dead squirrel surrounded by a ring of feces in an area where homeless individuals routinely sleep. Then, on June 25, residents found a dog crate with paper signs appended to the side stating, “HOMELESS DETERANT [sic] DEPOSITORY” and “PLEASE DONATE: dead squirrelles [sic], dog poop, broken glass and assorted rubbish.”
At least a couple neighbors, including Lizzy Stephan, thought the signs were meant to encourage retaliatory behavior toward the homeless. “I was horrified to see the notes on the crate, and to see the details, like looking for glass,” Stephan told us. “We live in a wonderful neighborhood, and everyone has been so friendly, so it was a shock to have this happen."
But since our original story ran, Westword was contacted by a woman who claims to have created the signs. She says their intent was misunderstood.
Carrie Mirfield explains that she made the signs as a public art installation, and that they were intended to shame a nearby resident who is suspected of being behind the dead-squirrel-and-feces display spotted earlier in June.
Mirfield lives in Capitol Hill, but she's frequently in the vicinity of the Atomic Cowboy visiting friends who live nearby. She remembers riding her bicycle past the dead squirrel and feces in the alleyway in June. That same day, she overheard a local resident named Michael bragging about setting up the squirrel and feces as a way to get back at homeless individuals who sleep in the alleyway.
“Look what I did!” Michael allegedly said to neighbors, pointing to the squirrel.
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According to Mirfield, “Everyone around the block knows he did it.” And she was incensed. Mirfield thought the man’s actions were appalling and cruel. Later, when she spotted a dog crate in the alley, she decided to make ironic signs to shame Michael. She intentionally misspelled words like “deterrent” and “squirrel,” Mirfield says, to demonstrate how ignorant a person must be to harass the homeless.
What Mirfield did not anticipate was that some neighbors, like Stephan, would misinterpret her signs.
When Mirfield read Westword’s article last week, she was horrified that some people thought the signs were encouraging further harassment of the homeless.
“I apologize for my convoluted and somewhat histrionic messages. I'm an artist and writer and I am struggling with whether what I did was good agitprop or just obnoxious reactionism,” Mirfield says. “Maybe it doesn't matter, if it provoked a response that led to increasing awareness of the dehumanization and harassment of homeless individuals. The most important thing is that the labels did viscerally represent a cruel act and brought public condemnation.”