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Growing homeless crisis at Sea-Tac Airport prompts new pilot program

The pilot program creates a full-time airport crisis coordinator amid rising crime within the airport.

SEATAC, Wash. — Officials at Sea-Tac Airport are hoping a new pilot program will help curb the homeless crisis that's been growing inside. 

The Port of Seattle Police Department (POSPD) says before the pandemic, homeless people tended to seek shelter near baggage claim and mostly at night. 

Now they're moving to other nonsecure areas like ticketing and in public restrooms causing public safety concerns for police. 

"We have seen substance abuse in the airport sometimes in the open, sometimes in our restrooms, there have been some assaults," said officer Michelle Bregel with the POSPD. 

The rise in crime inside the airport is impacting travelers as well. 

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"It makes you feel a little worry, makes you feel a little more alert," said Tacoma resident Thupten Tsering.

The new Sea Cares program turns the airport crisis coordinator role into a full-time job held by Bregel who has a background and passion for social service issues. 

The goal is to offer people living at the airport help, shelter referrals and sometimes a case manager. 

"I think that there has been an increase in safety concerns, especially with crimes associated with that population. But not everyone who comes to the airport to use it as emergency shelter commits crimes," said Bregel.

While many people refuse Bregel's offers for help, the program has seen some initial success. 

Since last May, 87 of the 127 contacts made resulted in some sort of social services referral. 

Back in early March, Bregal said the program helped reunite a woman who had been living at the airport with her family out of state. The woman had been arrested several times. 

"It makes me feel good, but also realizing how many more people need help," said Bregel. 

The next phase in the program involves bringing in mental health professionals to assist officers when they approach those in need.

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