SODO camp is stopgap site for homeless leaving The Jungle
A sliver of state-owned land near downtown Seattle is being positioned as a temporary destination for people moving out of homeless encampments underneath and adjacent to Interstate 5 known as The Jungle.
Several Dumpsters and portable toilets were delivered to the SODO camp last week after officials got a permit from the state Department of Transportation to use the site, said Katherine Jolly, spokeswoman for the Seattle Human Services Department.
Near Royal Brougham Way South and Airport Way South, the SODO camp’s numbers have swelled in recent days as campers are being encouraged to leave The Jungle, its residents said.
The move comes as state and city officials get ready to clear and clean The Jungle, otherwise known as the East Duwamish Greenbelt, before planned efforts by the state to improve visibility and access roads to the site, a WSDOT spokesman confirmed.
The state plan calls for reducing shrubbery along the greenbelt and paving an access road for the various agencies that work requires travel underneath the interstate, said WSDOT spokesman Travis Phelps. The homeless campers taking shelter underneath the highway cannot be present for that work, he said.
When the work will begin remains unclear. The start date is pending a greenlight from city officials, Phelps said.
As outreach teams from the Union Gospel Mission continue to offer to connect Jungle residents to services and shelter, city officials are hoping to use the Royal Brougham site as a stopgap while permanent housing options are developed, said Benton Strong, a spokesman for Mayor Ed Murray.
Despite placement of the Dumpsters and portable toilets, the move is “just one part of a long process toward getting people into shelter and is not intended to be permanent,” Strong said.
City officials declined to provide more details of the proposed agreement with the Department of Transportation before its release to the Seattle City Council, which could come as soon as this week.
Designating the SODO camp as a “transitional” site for homeless people is the latest effort by officials to strike a balance between outreach and enforcement in regard to Seattle’s most notorious homeless encampment.
Murray’s handling of the Jungle has received heavy scrutiny since January, when a shooting left two people dead and three others seriously injured.
After the shooting, Murray suggested a deadline for evicting those living beneath I-5. He later backed off under pressure from the City Council and local advocates, and then offered an extended timeline for clearing the camp.
In June, Murray signed an executive order authorizing the creation of a special 24-hour service center for the homeless. Last month, he sent a letter to the Council announcing plans to create a task force aimed at revamping the city’s policy for handling homeless encampments.
In an interview last week, Angi Davis, president of the SODO Business Improvement Area (BIA), called on Murray to abandon a plan to consolidate the campers, citing safety concerns around recent violence at the SODO camp. A 36-year-old woman suffered life-threatening injuries in a July 3 shooting at the camp.
“The BIA cannot fathom how this plan is better for these people, nor can we understand how it is going to be a lasting solution to un-populating the Jungle,” Davis said.
City police have heightened monitoring in the area of the camp as its numbers have increased, Jolly said. Asked to address the BIA’s complaint, Jolly said making the site sanitary is a “way to manage what’s already happened.”
“Our focus right now is on providing harm-reduction measures to the people who are already there,” she said.