Workers clean homeless camps along I-5

The homeless problem escalates in Seattle as more and more people camp along the region's busiest freeways.

SEATTLE - For years, we've seen growing homeless camps along Interstate 5, and we learned just a few months ago that there can be fatal consequences to living along the freeway.

As part of a 10-day cleanup, city and state workers closed a major part of I-5 beginning a difficult clean-up job.

For an hour Friday morning, the city and the state joined forces to shut down the express lanes to access the areas that had become home to the homeless.

Armed with pitchforks and protective suits, workers moved in to pick up and haul away old sleeping bags and trash.

“Today we did some spring cleaning, said city human services spokesperson, Meg Olberding.

Crews also tackled the off ramp areas near the University District. A “navigation team” came out a couple days ago to offer shelter and services to the people living there.

“We give them notice that we're coming in and cleaning,” Olberding said. “We do that a couple days ahead of time to get them use to the idea. Then today the navigation team was the first ones in to talk with folks who might still be there.”

Olberding emphasized this was not a sweep but people were told they could not stay here. She said safety is the biggest issue.

The city points to the fatal accident last fall when a car traveling on I-5 hit and killed a man sleeping in a tent

But all of these efforts may be just a temporary solution.

Tomas, who said he had been homeless for 20 years, showed us where his tent was set up near the freeway in the University District.

“There isn't really many places where you can camp out,” Tomas said.

He understands the need to clear the area but a shelter isn't for him.

“It feels like they're trying to corral us all into one space,” he said.

The city hasn't asked him to leave yet, but he knows it's a matter of time. Just like it's a matter of time before he returns.

The city says workers will be targeting the area of I-5 between Dearborn and 92nd street near Northgate.

The goal is that by next Friday, the areas along the highway will be noticeably cleaner and safer than before.

Copyright 2017 KING


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