There have been clean-ups of the area beneath Interstate 5 between Capitol Hill and Eastlake before. But officials hope this week’s sweeps can be part of a longer term change of what an East Precinct officer once described as a “no man’s land populated by the homeless, mental cases.”
In the first official deployment of the city’s new Navigation Team including outreach workers and police, the areas along and under I-5 popular with campers in the city’s core are being cleared out.
Here is what KOMO saw during the start of the clean-up in a half-mile stretch near the Colonnade Park between lower Capitol Hill and Eastlake:
Police and safety vest clad workers started pulling apart a bunker underneath I-5 early Tuesday. Mixed in with the bottles filled with urine were piles of blankets, rats and a smattering of personal belongings.
Workers could be seen sorting through the items in search of personal items. The city plans to store the items for people who left them there, said Scott Lindsay, public safety advisor for Mayor Ed Murray.
The I-5 sweeps are planned to continue on the state’s interstate property through the week. As part of their work, Navigation Team staff are being directed to secure possible personal items so owners can claim the belongings from the city.
This week, a judge declined to halt the city’s clean-up efforts though ACLU’s lawsuit seeking to block the sweeps continues.
This, of course, is not the first time we’ve reported on I-5 camp sweeps and clean-ups. CHS reported here on calls for more permanent legal encampments to stem the proliferations of illegal sites along I-5. In recent years, the largest of the I-5 camps were cleared on a rotating basis, officials said, which involved crews from WSDOT, the Department of Corrections, and state highway patrol. Officials said that crews tried to connect campers with social services.
In 2015, new rules allowed SPD to enforce trespassing on the state property setting the stage for increased involvement by the city. Earlier this month, the city announced a location for its new homeless services Navigation Center at 12th and Weller along with the formation of the Navigation Team. “The team will immediately begin working with unsheltered people who have urgent and acute unmet needs, and will serve as the primary access point for people to be served by the Navigation Center,” the city announcement of the start of the new initiative read.
Life in the I-5 camps is harsh and dangerous but many — perhaps hundreds — choose or are forced to take shelter there.