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Everett city leaders shut down homeless camp citing safety concerns

Advocates say the overwhelming majority of the 110 homeless residents simply dispersed into the community. City officials say they're exploring housing options.

EVERETT, Wash. — Thursday was moving day, once again, for more than 100 homeless people who recently set up camp on a vacant lot along Everett's Rucker Avenue.

They were there with the property owner's permission but had no permit. The city deemed the site a safety hazard and ordered everyone out. If the homeless didn't leave, the owner would have faced fines and possible legal action.

Among those on the move was 64-year-old Rick Wilson. A former construction worker, Wilson has been on the streets for three years after losing his home to foreclosure.

"I'm disappointed because it seems like all the efforts are being thrown in the trash can just like we always are," Wilson said.

The man who organized the camp is Robert Smiley. He runs the Hand Up Project that works to get homeless people off the street. Smiley moved the homeless to the lot when they were kicked out of an even larger camp outside the Snohomish County courthouse on Sunday.

County officials cited "safety concerns" for both the residents and people working nearby.

Neighbors along Rucker Avenue soon started complaining about trash and trespassing, but Smiley said he was eliminating the trouble makers.

"If you wanna give these people hope, you gotta let us do our work."

Smiley said he has gotten at least 15 people into housing or treatment over the past four days alone. He believes he could do much more if given more time. Once homeless and addicted himself, Smiley believes simply closing down the camp will only make the problem worse.

"If you wanna help a homeless addict, let the homeless addicts help," he said. "I know how to get through to these people because I was one."

RELATED: Everett orders homeless to leave neighborhood camp by noon Thursday

Smiley also called for a permanent homeless camp somewhere in Everett. He believes his organization, partnered with others could make a big difference there.

A city spokesperson said officials are "exploring several long-term solutions," but did not elaborate.

She also said residents were being offered housing vouchers, treatment and other services, but could not say how many people had accepted the offers.

By late afternoon Thursday, an Everett Police Department social worker was making her way through the camp, trying to connect people with services, but most of the homeless had already left. 

Smiley estimated about 70 or 80 of the 110 campers had simply wandered off into the neighborhood to find a new place to pitch their tents.

RELATED: Everett homeless camp on private property growing