SEATTLE – The place where a homeless person in a tent was struck and killed by a car Monday morning along Interstate 5 is on WSDOT property. The agency says it is doing what it can to clean out these areas, but Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says city taxpayers may need to do more.
The crash happened at the NE 50th Street off-ramp from northbound I-5 in Seattle. The Washington State Patrol says the driver, suspected of being under the influence, fled on foot and was captured at his home.
Murray, who declared a homelessness state of emergency earlier this year, said it’s the latest example of the crisis the city is facing.
“It is obvious that we cannot allow people to stay in places that are not safe for them. But then the question comes up, ‘Where do we move people?’” said Murray. “That’s why we led with an effort to expand authorized encampments. That’s why we signed the state of emergency.
Murray said its impossible for the city to be able to deal with the issue on both city property and state property, even if its within the city limits.
“We want our area to be safe for drivers, and we don’t want these encampments on there and homeless people on there for the safety of everybody,” said Kris Olsen, WSDOT spokesperson.
But it’s a daunting task because there are so many WSDOT has to deal with.
“There are hundreds of little encampments like that up and down I-5 and I-90 and, unfortunately, what happened this morning is a really tragic demonstration of why we don’t want people camping on our right-of-way,” said Olsen.
Olsen says WSDOT goes in regularly and cleans out the encampments, but can only do it every couple of months because of how many there are.
“When you have hundreds of encampments, it’s difficult to get to them as often as we would like to get to them. And we know many of the folks who use these will move across the street, down the block. We’ll clean an area, and they’ll be back within a day or so. So we can’t be there all the time.”
Murray said taxpayers may have to step up to pay for a long-term solution.
“It is my hope that the answer for the city of Seattle is that we’ve stepped up and the state and federal government will step up. But if they won’t, we can’t simply stand by and let this humanitarian crisis grow,” said Murray.
But the mayor was not able to offer any short-term solution to the life-threatening situation that could be put into effect before any type of tax-raising ballot measure could take place.
Olsen says WSDOT is working with the City of Seattle’s task force on homelessness and working to stay consistent with the city for notification of when the clean-ups will happen. Olsen says WSDOT currently gives the camps 72 hours notice.
Death shines spotlight on youth homelessness
The death of Walter Burton, 19, also serves as a reminder to the needs of the area's younger homeless population, advocates said.
In its annual count of youth living in unstable or unsheltered housing, King County determined 824 people between 12-and-25 years of age are homeless.
That figure is the same as 2015, which is a positive indication for outreach efforts.
But for Leila Adams, 15, city leaders can do more. It's a topic she plans to bring up in early October when she formally joins the Seattle Youth Commission.
"The thing I hear the most is, they want to get their education and they want to get a job," said Adams of her experience volunteering at area shelters. "But they don't have the experience because they're kids."
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