The city of Seattle started clearing out people living under Seattle's Spokane Street Viaduct Tuesday, citing the need for maintenance work and fire danger posed by the camp. The decision comes after three homeless-related fires, or fire hazard incidents, in the last week around what the city calls “critical bridge infrastructure.”
Two RVs burned under the Spokane Street Viaduct and West Seattle Bridge last Thursday. The day before, there was a propane tank explosion and fire under Interstate 90 and Edgar Martinez Way. The day before that, crews removed 26 propane tanks stacked around the base of a Magnolia bridge support column.
"The reason why is that it's a hazard," said Seattle Police Sgt. Eric Zerr, a member of the city's navigation team. "The fires we've had, the amount of combustibles with the RV's, the propane tanks, and gasoline, that makes it an area that is just unsafe."
“Camping under low bridge structures can present a hazard for the city’s essential infrastructure, especially when there are concentrations of flammable materials such as pallets and mattresses, and a likelihood of open flames or vehicles with mechanical issues,” Julie Moore wrote on the City’s Homelessness Response Blog.
The blog went on to say that SDOT engineers are particularly concerned about the roughly 30 RVs that are parked under the Spokane Street viaduct.
"All of a sudden being uprooted..." said a man named Phil, who had been living under the bridge for several months. "When you're uprooted it takes away your security your safety. All of a sudden, where I'm going to go next? That's the biggest part of it."
The city’s newly created Navigation Team will work to assist those living under the bridge and help them find safer places to live.
Rebecca Massey, who had been living in a tent under the bridge for a few weeks, said the Navigation Team told her she qualified for a particular shelter because she was drug-free and had identification.
But she wanted to stay with her community there, a feeling shared by others we talked to.
The city asked the owners of the RV's and vehicles in working condition to remove them. Lincoln Towing was contracted to remove those with no registration. Union Gospel Mission moved broken-down vehicles for people who could prove ownership.