SEATTLE – City and state leaders announced a plan Tuesday to clean up Seattle’s notorious, unsanctioned homeless camp known as “The Jungle” and offer personal outreach to its residents in hopes of giving them another option.
“This is a person-centered approach with the necessary supports to shift people into more stable housing,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a statement.
The Jungle, located under Interstate 5 in South Seattle, is seen as both a public safety and public health risk.
A shooting in The Jungle in January left two people dead and three injured. It took nearly a week for officers to find the suspects identified as three teenage boys. They are brothers who, police say, were settling a drug debt for their mother.
Leaders said Tuesday outreach teams from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission will work to build relationships with Jungle residents and offer shelter. Services such as addiction treatment and food and housing assistance will also be provided. The Mission won’t be using funds from the city or state. But those who are contacted will have access to publicly-funded shelter space, motel vouchers, and assistance with travel, the city said.
“We know many of these people by name and their unique situations. Whether someone struggles with mental illness, is in need of recovery services, qualifies for veteran’s aid, or has other challenges, we will connect them to social service providers who can best offer the help they need,” said Jeff Lilley, president of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission in a statement.
Once the people are cleared from The Jungle, which could take several weeks, WSDOT, the Department of Corrections, and Seattle Parks and Recreation will move in to remove any health and fire hazards, debris, and overgrown vegetation.
WSDOT will also enhance the existing gravel roads along the freeway to improve access for first responders, outreach teams, and maintenance workers.
Funding will come from the 2016 supplemental state transportation budget and from the city of Seattle.
The city will also hire an independent consultant to work with the city council and other government and community groups to look at alternate uses for the area under the interstate.
The city says it will spend nearly $50 million in 2016 to provide services for the homeless. Counts of the homelessness population show the number of people living on the streets in King County has increased by 19 percent in the past year to more than 4,500.
The plan got mixed reaction by some lawmakers.
"I commend the mayor and governor for addressing the public health problem under I-5 and take some steps for the people living there. Yet, to seriously address our homelessness issues, we need to systematically align the city's, county's, and state's investments in supportive services and permanent housing units. I invite the state to join us in these efforts," said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
"I have been calling on shutting down the jungle for months and enforcing state law for months, and while I am pleased to see Seattle leaders announcing intentions to do that, I am concerned over the lack of details or measurable goals they have offered and am worried that this does nothing more than create more questions than answers.,” said Washington State Senator Mark Miloscia (R), who is running for State Auditor.
KING 5's Michael Konopasek and Chris Daniels contributed to this report.