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Intensive Outreach To Homeless Is First Step In Shutdown Plan For Seattle’s 'Jungle'

Seattle and state officials have announced plans to move people out of the notorious homeless encampment along Interstate 5 known as “the Jungle.” The area is beneath I-5, roughly between Dearborn and Spokane Streets, as well as in the Duwamish Greenbelt east of the freeway. The plan comes several months after a shooting at the camp left two people dead and three wounded.

After the shooting, agencies from the city, county and state conducted a joint assessment of the area which they published in February. They found hundreds of homeless people living in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, riddled with drug use and the threat of violent crime. Officials have concluded it’s so unsafe, they can no longer let it stand.

Scott Lindsay, a special assistant with the Seattle mayor’s office, announced the plan saying even the city’s fire department has identified it as extraordinarily dangerous.

“There is no other area within the city of Seattle where the fire department won’t go without a police department presence. But this area is so hazardous, so unsafe, that that’s really the genesis of why we are here. We’re saying this site is uniquely problematic and we can’t let it stand anymore,” Lindsay said.

The first step of their plan is outreach to the homeless living in the Jungle. Their number is estimated at about 300. Starting next week, teams with the Union Gospel Mission will launch a renewed push to offer them shelter and services. Mission president Jeff Lilly praised the plan and said he expects they’ll encounter many faces they’ve already been seeing for years.

“Our primary goal there is to meet with them as individuals.  We’re going to be going out one by one, getting to know them, understanding their personal challenges and then coming up with strategies with them about where we can get them to that’s both safer for them and for our entire community,” he said.  

After about two weeks of intensive outreach, he says the social workers will be joined by law enforcement and cleanup crews from the state Department of Transportation, who will bring in heavy equipment to start excavating years’ worth of human waste and debris. They’ll be telling people they have to leave, but Lilly says the mission crews will stick around as well.

“We’ll actually be walking with them so that if there are people that are still hanging around, we’ll be still working with them and being able to move them towards services as we can.”

The city was vague about how they will keep the homeless out after the clean up, but said they’ll be working with a consultant to develop a combination of deterrents that might include a fence.  The state has authorized $1 million to be used in all steps of the plan.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.