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Seeking Shelter Carries Risk In Seattle's 'Jungle'

Elaine Thompson
Tents sit under an overpass in view of sports stadiums behind as a commuter train passes near where police arrested three teenage boys the day before in connection with a January shooting at a Seattle homeless encampment known as 'The Jungle.'

In the wake of last week’s shooting in Seattle that killed two people and injured three, officials from state and local agencies are trying to gain a better understanding of where the crime happened.

It’s a place that runs along I-5 called The Jungle. Richie Seifert is a man who has called this two-and-a-half-mile stretch of steep hillsides dotted with tents, garbage and makeshift cardboard box houses, home off and on for much of his adult life.

Before coming here, Seifert says he was raised on cans of welfare food in the heart of the Rainier Valley in a violent dysfunctional family with seven kids.

“The people I looked up to were Black Panthers, pimps, gangsters — that’s who we had,” says Seifert, who is 58 years old.

Where we stand and talk, there are three tents nearby. A woman just went back inside one after relieving herself in the dirt, against a concrete pillar off the freeway. Seifert says the lure of this place is that it’s dry and close to social services. A methadone clinic is not too far away. All walks of life live here. And yes, there is a lot of crime.

“Just like society, everything is gonna come with it. You’re going to have people dealing drugs; You’re going to have people using drugs; You’re going to have thieves — [as well as] good people. There are people that even work that have jobs that live there. People from around the country come here and camp out there.”

Even if you’ve never seen this place before, Seifert is certain the trouble emanating from here will affect everyone in this city at some point.

“You know, I don’t care if you’re from Amazon and you're making $225,000 a year, if below you, the foundation, the streets, people around you are failing, dying, using drugs, committing crimes, our society will collapse.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants to clean out 'The Jungle,' shut it all down. Seifert says if that happens, people will come back, eventually, drawn in by the shelter of the freeway above.

Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.
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