Due to increasing public safety and health concerns impacting homeless individuals and the surrounding community, the City will begin 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. There have been several fires, multiple reports of violent crimes associated with individuals in this area, and a consistent problem with accumulating garbage. Additionally, there are concerns about the safety of campers and pedestrians near the Cloverleaf and drivers navigating the busy exit ramp, which is WSDOT-owned property.
Starting Monday, May 1, and continuing up through the removal of these encampments, the City’s Navigation Team of specially trained Seattle Police officers and outreach workers will conduct outreach, offering alternative shelter, individualized services and storage of personal belongings to individuals camping in this location. The closure and cleanup efforts will stretch over two weeks – beginning with the Cloverleaf area on May 16, followed by South Dean Street and Poplar Place South, and along South Dearborn Street to 10th Avenue South on May 23.
After the cleanup, these locations will become emphasis areas, which are places where an encampment has become a consistent problem. Emphasis areas are posted as such and are 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. On June 1, per an agreement with WSDOT, the area roughly between South Dearborn Street and I-90, from 10th Avenue South on the west and South Dean Street on the east, will be utilized by Sound Transit as a staging area for construction of the East Link Light Rail extension.
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 have been reported in this area, 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. Today, 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.
Balancing support to individuals with negative impacts of large encampment
A group of community members has been organizing support for individuals living here, including offering supplies, collecting trash and providing meal service on Sundays. While their efforts are very generous, 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. The City has been communicating with these volunteers and is open to continuing to work with them on ways to support homeless individuals, but not in this location.
Two weeks ago the City conducted a cleaning emphasis along South Dearborn Street, and last week collected garbage at the Cloverleaf and removed the campers around the staircases that provides access from Rainier Avenue South to the Metro bus station on I-90. As part of those efforts, the City’s Navigation Team conducted outreach, offering alternative shelter, individualized services and storage of personal belongings to individuals camping in this location.