Last week, the City completed a cleanup of the Spokane Street corridor, where growing encampments were creating public health and safety concerns. The City’s approach included repeated individualized outreach to move people to safer locations, connect them with services and store personal belongings, followed by cleanup of garbage and debris left behind, then mitigation to discourage future camping. The entire effort went smoothly and as planned, with 46 people moving to safer alternative living spaces, including the City’s Navigation Center, the Compass at First Presbyterian 24/7 enhanced shelter, Peter’s Place and UGM shelter.
There are as many as 400 unauthorized encampments in Seattle. The City focuses on closing encampments that pose the greatest risks to public health and safety. While many people living in encampments may not be involved in criminal activity, large encampments like what had developed along Spokane Street tend to attract negative behavior. This puts already vulnerable homeless individuals at further risk of impacts from public health and safety concerns. Specific incidents in this area include the RV fires earlier this year, which posed risks to individuals living there and critical infrastructure, as well as a recent shooting that left one individual dead and another charged with murder. Additionally, while the City has worked with campers to manage their garbage, trash accumulation continued to be an ongoing issue in this area. During last Tuesday’s cleanup effort, there was one location where the accumulation of human waste and dead rodents was so extensive that a specialty biohazard cleanup vendor was called in to remediate it.
As with all encampment cleanups, trained City outreach teams approach each person living on the streets with the goal of helping them successfully transition to a safer living location. Per City rules, we make legitimate offers of alternative shelter that is available immediately. If they accept, we will assist with transporting people and their belongings to those spaces. These include indoor shelters, including the new low-barrier 24/7 Navigation Center and Compass at First Presbyterian shelter, managed encampments, or even reconnecting with family or friends. With this approach, the Navigation Team has had a 37% success rate of helping people move from these hazardous locations to safer alternatives over the last six months. That is a great record for this very hard work.
Spokane Street outreach results
The City’s Navigation Team has been conducting repeated, personalized outreach in this area for months, getting to know the people living there and working to find solutions that meet their individual needs. Overall, the City’s outreach to individuals living along the Spokane Street corridor over the last seven weeks resulted in 46 people moving to safer alternative living spaces. As of Monday, Sept. 11, the day before the cleanup began, 21 people had accepted and relocated to alternative shelter following repeated outreach efforts since early August. Over the four days of last week’s cleanup efforts, Tuesday-Friday, 25 people relocated to alternative living spaces, including 22 who completed intake at the new 24/7 low-barrier Compass at First Presbyterian shelter.
Additionally, City field coordinators collected and stored personal belongings at the owner’s request and those items left unattended that appeared to be useful (e.g., tents, clothing, shoes, books, bikes, etc.). In total, the City stored 30 55-gallon bins, six bikes, three items of luggage and 6 large items over the Sept. 12-15 cleanup. Belongings are stored for up to 70 days and may be recovered by calling 206-459-9949 and providing an accurate description of the items. The City will deliver belongings to the owner upon request.
Maintaining a safe work zone
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, as scheduled, the Navigation Team arrived to conduct outreach and make final offers before the area was to be cleared out and cleaned. As with other large encampment cleanups, the team set up a perimeter to establish a work zone for the safety of all of those involved. The only people allowed within this zone are the people camping there, the officers and outreach professionals who are working to hopefully transfer them to alternative living spaces, the field coordinators who are assisting with storage of belongings, and the cleanup crews. Around 15 protestors arrived, and some chose to enter the established work zone. Sgt. Eric Zerr of the Navigation Team spoke with the protestors at great length. He indicated they could continue to observe, wave signs, talk to the homeless individuals, etc., from outside the perimeter. Sgt. Zerr gave the protestors nearly an hour from the time the perimeter went up until arrests were made; the individuals arrested were giving a final 15-minute warning and all but two complied with exiting the work zone and were arrested without incident for trespassing.