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Tacoma's largest homeless encampment known as the "Tacoma Jungle" is expected to be completely cleared out before the end of the week.
Half of the Tacoma Jungle, which is underneath the Interstate 5/Interstate 705 interchange near the Tacoma Dome, is owned by the City of Tacoma. However, the majority of people are living on the other half, which is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The city and WSDOT originally had a plan to clean up the Tacoma Jungle by the first week in May but moved up their timeline shortly after Tacoma Dome business leaders pressed state and city leaders about growing trash and drug activity.
"People that are experiencing homelessness are people that are in need. And so as a department we want to be compassionate about our actions," Claudia Bingham Baker, WSDOT Communication Manager said. "We have a safety issue. We have a lot of concerns by local citizens, however we also have concerns about the safety of people that are camping here as well. Our goal is to keep our structures unencumbered so that we can inspect and maintain and repair them, while at the same time being humane and compassionate in how we manage this issue."
Tacoma City Councilmember Robert Thoms cited growing safety concerns as the impetus to move up the timeline.
“Safety for the businesses, safety for the people that are underneath there, safety for the structures,” Thoms said. “It’s not safe for anyone to sleep underneath bridges and out in the open. It’s not something we want to see anyone have to do regularly.”
"This was one that was growing fairly rapidly, so we felt like the sooner we were able to provide outreach and get it cleaned up the better. Not only for them but also for the local businesses," Baker added.
But those who live in the Jungle said the 72-hour timeline is unrealistic.
“It's kind of hard to act on short notice,” said Nathaniel Stewart, who said he has lived in the Tacoma Jungle for two months. “People are packing up, people are stressed out and panicking. Some people go to work. Some people go to school. If we can get a continuance, we can figure out our further plans.”
"It kind of made it easier for us when they said a month,” said a man named Chris, “because it would give us some sort of timeline of what we're supposed to do or where we can go without getting in trouble, and now they just shove us out and expect us to go somewhere."
Over the weekend, the city worked with outreach teams to connect folks at the encampment with social services in the area. City officials said out of 75 people, 31 were informed of the pending move and didn’t take services that were offered, 23 took information and said they would follow-up, 14 were entered in the Coordinated Entry in Pierce County. Another person entered into drug treatment and a couple qualified for VA services.
“I think what we’re doing now allows our city to really address who are these people? Where are they on the continuum of need? And, how do we build the right type of systems to deal with them?” said Thoms.
Volunteers say they are just trying to help the Tacoma Jungle residents any way they can.
"That's about all we're here to do - serve people, love people, try to give them some hope. This is their home for some people," volunteer Dominic Porreca said.
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