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City, State take steps to clear Seattle’s decades-old ‘Jungle’ encampment

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.

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14 thoughts on “City, State take steps to clear Seattle’s decades-old ‘Jungle’ encampment

  1. Travel assistance? To where? A summer trip to Las Vegas? Will they then assist them back to Seattle?
    Hasn’t the Jungle been around since the Hoover administration?

  2. What they need are some of the new expansion joints from 520 which make it impossible to sleep anywhere near the bridge.

  3. Instead of clearing them out why don’t we provide them with dumpsters and portable toilets. These folks most likely just want to be left alone so lets try and make their environment as safe and healthy as possible so they can carry on in peace.

    I’d prefer this approach rather than forcing them out, destroying their shelter and leave them on the streets trying to replace the contents of their lives that have been trashed.

    • Typical Seattle passiveness, thinking that making it easier to live under a freeway is compassionate.

      Sure, if they have a place to take a dump, that will fix the rampant drug use and occasional murder. God forbid we tackle these problems head-on or enforce laws.

    • Adam, compassion isn’t always doing what *you* think is best, but helping others to live in a way they feel is best for them. By providing them with sanitation measures and waste removal services, we would be enabling them to live life on their terms, with dignity. Those who want to accept the other services offered are welcome to do so, but not everyone there wants that.

    • Its the best we can do until the city locks each of them up and forces them into rehab and mental health facilities.

      We know that will never happen. So…..

    • Murders are a problem, sure, but are they a problem unique to homeless encampments? Seems to me murders happen everywhere human beings live together.

      As far as drug use goes, how is that any of our business? Most humans use drugs, we just have polite names for the drugs society approves of – names like “wine” and “coffee” and “prescription benzodiazepines”. If someone’s life is such a mess that living in a tent in a jungle by a freeway feels like their best option, and they feel like using whatever mind-altering substance they can get their hands on to help them cope with the pain and frustration of their existence, who the hell are we to judge that?

      Sure, let the city work to keep the access roads clear, that’s fine, but it’s not like we’re using the jungle for anything and I see nothing wrong with letting poor desperate people camp there if they feel like that’s their best option. They’ll go elsewhere the instant they have a better choice, and if there are really that many people with no better choice that the size of the encampment has become a problem, well – that’s a strong indication that something about the structure of our society is creating this problem and it can’t simply be blamed on their individual choices.

    • Agree completely. Dumpsters and toilets would be a form of harm reduction, a temporary bandage to a larger problem.

  4. As someone who has conducted homeless outreach both in The Jungle and other areas of downtown Seattle, I agree with Timmy73; these people want to be left alone. Many (and I would wager, “most”) of them have been in and out of the various shelter programs and have found that they live most peacefully and without incident in a removed, isolated area such as The Jungle.

    • I agree that most of them just want to be left alone, primarily because they can then use their substance of choice unhindered by the rules in shelters, or in programs which would attempt to get them into transitional or more stable housing. And this is exactly why outreach efforts (such as those planned by the City and State) will fail.

  5. KUOW did a series on the Jungle. The few people willing to go there on a regular basis are VOLUNTEERS. One woman with her small band who goes 1-2/month handing out food and basic necessities. Another is a bible thumping holy roller who brings hot food along with hymns once a week.

    City employees and all the big homeless non-profit players are too scared to go there. So no assessment, no follow ups. The people what live there are profiled with pictures of their daily camp life. It’s home for them. There’s a couple who live there and go to their methadone clinic nearby regularly. There are former African child soldiers who were brought from one hell hole to another here. What happened? Government refugee relocation funding dried up? Lack of jobs for poorly educated, poorly assimilated young men,probably suffering PTSD. Sigh.

    So the plan is to kick them out and spread them far and wide into the neighborhoods, away from gleaming office towers of SLU. Make it other people’s problems. The city did get mana in one old hotel for a year to house a few families. That’s the best the billionaires and millionaires can give up. Good enough though for passing the tax burden onto the working people. So the words from our politicians: vote for that levy people! Tax $ is your answer.

    Not a religious person, but beginning to think we need less compassionate, progressive BS. and more religious fervor if that is what it takes to have the guts to actually go in and help people.

  6. I can’t believe I’m saying this…but I agree with Sawant..this will not address the problem and a fence is not going to hinder people(climb/cut/dig).

    Ideally…the city would clear some space there(ehh better use full bio protections), set up some covered areas, CCTV’s and needle disposal areas.

    As part of a deal to allow people there, they should allow surveillance and well fare checks by police and/or outreach groups.

    Unless you are forcing people on a one way bus to San Fran, you are not going to write a law to abolish homeless people from sleeping….somewhere. I’d personally rather have them in an area that allowed for shelter, showers, some security instead of crashing on 2nd avenue doorways or putting up shady semi-permanent housing on East Roy street(which I saw about 2 months ago)