Social workers from the Union Gospel Mission will have about two weeks to convince the hundreds of people living under I-5 to move along before the state and city begin clearing the area. Today, representatives for Mayor Ed Murray, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and UGM announced their plans to clear the large encampment under the freeway known as the Jungle. Next week, UGM will begin what Murray's public safety advisor Scott Lindsay called an "extensive outreach push" to last about two weeks. Then, the city and state will begin using heavy equipment to remove waste from the area and eventually block people from returning to the area.
Lindsay would not directly answer the question of whether people who remain in the Jungle once clearing begins will be arrested, but he said the city has only made one arrest in its extensive clearings of other homeless encampments throughout Seattle. He said he "would not anticipate" that arrests in the Jungle will be necessary.
The city will not allocate any new money or open any new shelters specifically for this effort. Instead, they'll tap into the $7 million the mayor has allocated for the homelessness state of emergency he declared in November and the $1 million state lawmakers set aside earlier this year for WSDOT to clear the area. Jason Johnson, from the city's human services department, said city and county shelters have open beds for people currently living in the Jungle. But existing shelters and services don't always meet the needs of homeless people living in places like the Jungle. It can also be difficult to find immediately available mental health care and addiction treatment—an issue that traces back to federal and state funding issues. All of that means two weeks is an ambitiously short timeline to help the 200 to 400 people the city estimates are currently living under I-5.
At today's announcement, UGM President Jeff Lilley repeatedly emphasized that his organization already does outreach to the Jungle and knows some of the people living there. However, a recent KUOW report detailed how little substantial outreach is actually done in the area, according to residents. Lilley acknowledged that the people living in the Jungle may struggle to access treatment or shelter in the city's existing system.
"I think we're all aware not all of them are going to move toward shelter," he said, pledging to "do our best."
After the area is cleared, the city and state will use a "combination of deterrents, law enforcement, and activation of the space" to prevent homeless people from returning to the Jungle, Lindsay said. But no one at today's announcement would commit to what the physical "deterrents" will look like. Instead, they're hiring a consultant to help them figure out how to "activate" the space and prevent homeless people from returning to it.
When state lawmakers allocated $1 million in last year's budget to clearing the area, Seattle Senator Reuven Carlyle proposed a razor-wire-topped fence for the area,. That proposal blew up in his face and he backpedaled. It's clear now Murray's administration and WSDOT are treading lightly around that issue and hesitating to say they'll fence off the area. That said, it's hard to imagine what sorts of "deterrents" they could install that wouldn't include fencing.