A man police believe was staying in a homeless encampment fell from this retaining wall to his death early this morning.
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  • A man police believe was staying in a homeless encampment fell from this retaining wall to his death early this morning.

As Sydney mentioned in Morning News, a man died early this morning after falling from a retaining wall on the James Street offramp of Interstate 5.

Police believe the 41-year-old man was living in a small nearby homeless encampment, says Seattle Police Department detective Drew Fowler. But they couldn't find any witnesses to the fall—about a 30-foot drop, according to Fowler—and don't know what he was doing at the time. A passing motorist reported seeing the man in the road around 1:30 am, but it's also not clear whether anyone stopped to help.

If only this didn't feel so familiar. Last year, a man died after he fell from a homeless encampment on a concrete outcropping above the freeway about 10 blocks to the north. And in 2011 a woman survived a fall from an overpass onto the freeway as she was trying to get to a nearby encampment.

The news comes as the city is trying to address a growing homeless population and the Washington State Department of Transportation, which owns lands like this near freeways, continues to evict people from tent encampments. (SPD is usually called out to assist in those evictions, but Fowler says no one was kicked out of this camp after this morning's death.)

"Sleeping outside in out-of-the-way encampments trying not to be found is dangerous," says Real Change director Tim Harris. "Everything about it is dangerous. You’re exposed to violence from predators, you’re exposed to the elements, you’re making your way under suboptimal conditions to places that aren’t really meant for people to be."

One way to start addressing that lack of safety would be legalizing and regulating safe, structured encampments, which city officials look finally, finally ready to do—maybe even on city-owned land. The mayor's proposal to permit three new tent encampments in the city will get its first council discussion at a land use committee meeting a week from today, on February 3.

"I think this should be message to the city council to act with as much haste as possible to move the sanctioning-of-encampments question forward," Harris says. "That should not be a six-month debate and another six months to make it happen. We should see encampments on city property two or three months from now."