Seattle's Navigation Team, comprised of police, outreach workers and clean-up crews, began removing homeless encampments along the north side of Dearborn Avenue South between I-5 and 13th Avenue South on Monday.
Will Lemke, a spokesperson for the Navigation Team, said the cleanup would be a multi-day process and teams would remove the camps over the course of this week.
Lemke said 24 people were found living at the camp at 10th and Dearborn on Monday.
Shelter will be available and offered to everyone living in the encampment, according to the city. The team will also offer storage for personal belongings.
City officials said they’ve prioritized clearing the area due to the conditions. There are concerns about the presence of biohazardous waste, damage to the natural environment, and the difficulty of getting emergency responders to the site.
“We’ve been servicing this area with trash pickup, with litter picks, trying to keep trash down," Lemke said. "However, we saw this place continue to experience a lot of negative impacts from trash.”
Police are also focused on criminal activity in the area after a separate operation last week found alleged drug rings at encampments in Pioneer Square and the Chinatown/International District. Officers found real and fake guns, knives, machetes, and a sword as well as drugs and over $20,000 in cash.
Investigators served seven search warrants and arrested 10. They do not believe the drug rings were connected.
"Obviously there was a criminal element because they served warrants here," said Sgt. Eric Zerr of the SPD Navigation team. "But with narcotics involved, there are a lot of people using. They're prey to the dealers, the people that are here."
Brian Evans lives unsheltered near I-90 and came to watch the camp being cleaned out.
"I'm glad," Evans said. "It will be clean for a while, but just like every other time they get done cleaning, everybody comes back. Because where are they going to go?"
"Right here is just rats everywhere. It's bad, but to some people this is home. You know, this is all they have," said John Joyner, who often passes by the encampment. "I think it is one of those things where you don't really think about it until it's in your backyard."
Derek Valdez works nearby.
"It has just gotten more rundown as the time has gone by," said Valdez. "My initial reaction is it's good that they are cleaning it up, but in a few weeks, it is going to go back to normal."
After the site has been cleared of debris, Lemke said mesh fencing will be installed while the parks department mows and scrapes up topsoil in the area.
Navigation Team members will visit the site daily to ensure people do not immediately return to the area. They hope to break the cycle of homelessness at the camp.
Then the city will work with stakeholders and organizations in the Chinatown-International District to determine best future uses for the site.
“We do want to change behavior here for the long-term,” Lemke said.
Drivers should be aware of lane restrictions along South Dearborn.
"I just wish [people] knew there's some of us out here that are trying," Evans said. "And not everybody is the same. Not everybody is doing drugs, not everybody is committing crimes, stealing or breaking into homes and cars. I just want everybody to know there are good people out here."