As announced on April 28, due to increasing public safety and health concerns impacting homeless individuals and the surrounding community, the City is working toward removal of the illegal camping that stretches from the I-90 on/off-ramps at Rainier Avenue South (the “Cloverleaf”) north to South Dearborn Street. Last week the City’s Navigation Team began repeated, intensive outreach. The closure and cleanup efforts will stretch over two weeks – beginning with the Cloverleaf area on Tuesday, May 16, followed by South Dean Street and Poplar Place South, and along South Dearborn Street to 10th Avenue South on May 23.
Outreach and offers of services tailored to individuals
Beginning May 1, the City’s Navigation Team of specially trained Seattle Police officers and outreach workers have been conducting outreach, offering alternative shelter, individualized services and storage of personal belongings to individuals camping in this location. So far, the team has visited the area last week on May 1 and 5, this week on Monday, Wednesday and today. The team will be returning tomorrow, May 12, on Monday, May 15, and will be working throughout the two-week cleanup.
During Monday’s and yesterday’s visits, the Navigation Team documented 93 contacts. Six individuals have accepted alternative living arrangements – four moved to the Georgetown encampment and one to the Licton Springs encampment, while another individual was referred to Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS). The Navigation Team is also maintaining a waiting list of individuals who are interested in moving to sanctioned encampments on Monday, when additional space will be available. Outreach assisted five individuals with securing their state IDs, connected six individuals to case management, and conducted coordinated entry housing assessments for two individuals. Additionally, three individuals were provided with medical assistance and several referrals were made for employment.
Today, an eight-person specialty mental health team supplemented the Navigation Team’s outreach work. This team of professionals engaged some 31 individuals living with persistent mental illness, offering support, making assessments and scheduling follow-up visits. The team provided onsite mental health support and companionship, basic needs including food, socks and water. The mental health professionals worked to help those experiencing anxieties around relocating to process their thoughts and feelings. Several of the individuals contacted responded positively to the engagements, with three immediately committing to relocating to a sanctioned encampment and another two scheduling follow-ups to discuss their final decisions.
Working closely with our partners – including the Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission, Compass Housing Alliance, DESC, Patacara and LIHI – the City is confident there will be alternative spaces available at the time of the cleanups for individuals who wish to accept them. These spaces include traditional shelter as well as the City-sanctioned encampments. As with other encampment removals, the Navigation Team offers services beyond alternative shelter, including: reconnecting with family/support systems, case management, mental health support, medical support, substance use disorder treatment referral, employment support, benefits activation support, coordinated entry housing assessment, state ID acquisition assistance and basic needs.
The City recognizes a group of neighbors and other community members have been generously supporting individuals living unsheltered in these locations, including providing a weekly meal service, delivery of supplies and assistance with trash cleanup. Unfortunately, the illegal camping is too extensive and lacks structured management to keep trash under control, prevent hazardous structures from being built, and deter negative behavior. On the days of removal, the City will identify a location outside of the cleanup perimeter where these volunteers will be welcome to engage with the individuals whom they have come to know.
Public safety concerns
While many people living in these encampments may not be involved in criminal activity, these large encampments tend to attract negative behavior. The already vulnerable homeless individuals and the surrounding community are impacted by this activity. Over just the last several weeks, a number of fires and violent crimes in this area have been reported including: a brush fire caused by a generator earlier this week; a significant fire that burned a large tent, surrounding property and trees last weekend; a woman who suffered severe stab wounds and reported being held hostage in her tent while being assaulted; several reports of shots fired and victims arriving at Harborview Medical Center with gunshot wounds; and a woman who was treated for injuries at Swedish Medical Center who reported a man beat her with a campfire grill and choked her with his hands and an extension cord. On April 27, the Seattle Police Department SWAT served a search warrant at a tent near South Dearborn Street and 10th Avenue South and seized a cache of handguns and rifles.
After the cleanup, the Cloverleaf will be fenced. It will also be designated as an emphasis area, which means that it will be posted with signs and regularly monitored. The removal of tents and belongings from posted emphasis areas does not require notice as with other encampments, though personal belongings will be stored when found.
On June 1, per an agreement with WSDOT, Sound Transit will begin utilizing the area roughly between South Dearborn Street and I-90, from 10th Avenue South on the west to South Dean Street on the east, as a staging area for construction of the East Link Light Rail extension.