City and state officials outlined a plan this week to clear a longstanding homeless encampment along I-5 where two people were fatally shot in January. By deploying outreach workers offering social services to those still living at the “The Jungle,” officials hope to relocate campers and clear the sprawling East Duwamish Greenbelt in the coming weeks.
“This is a person-centered approach with the necessary supports to shift people into more stable housing,” said Governor Jay Inslee in a statement.
Outreach teams from the Union Gospel Mission will work to relocate those living at the encampment by offering shelter, motel vouchers, and travel assistance. A city assessment of the camp in February found “tragic, unsanitary conditions” (PDF).
The wooded greenbelt below the confluence of I-90 and I-5 is on land owned by the city parks department, but includes emergency access roads that will be improved by the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The relocation and cleanup effort will be funded through a $1 million state budget supplement passed earlier this year. Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who introduced the measure, stirred controversy when he suggested the money should be used to build a barbed wire fence around the encampment. Critics, including City Council District 3 rep Kshama Sawant, said a fence would not keep people out and failed to address the underlying issues of the camp.
It appears a fence will not be part of the cleanup effort. Once the camp is cleared, the city will convene a stakeholder group to determine what should be done in the area. According to a statement from Mayor Ed Murray’s office, “the goal of access management is to allow maintenance crews and law enforcement to better serve the area, not to create an impenetrable barrier or fence.”
The city’s practice of clearing and cleaning homeless encampments sparked a heated debate between City Council members and City officials earlier this year. CHS previously wrote about the many homeless encampments along Capitol Hill’s I-5 shores, how they’re affecting some residents on First Hill, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars the state spends to clear the camps only to have campers return hours later.
How to best help those living in The Jungle has been a sensitive issue since three teenagers were charged for the January shooting that left two dead and three injured in the camp. Just two months earlier, the mayor declared a state of emergency on homelessness in Seattle which help help put into motion $7.6 million to be spent on alleviating the crisis, in addition to the $40 million already budgeted for homeless services in 2016.