Seattle begins clean-up of one of city's longest running homeless encampments

Officials begin cleanup of one of Seattle's longest running homeless encampments (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- It’s been one of Seattle’s oldest and longest running homeless encampments, but its run has come to an end.

The camp, spread out over nearly 25 acres in heavily wooded greenbelt between Myers Way and Highway 509 in West Seattle has diminished in size over the years but its problems have become too big to ignore.

Heavy equipment, excavators, all terrain dump trucks and dozens of workers showed up at the site Monday morning to begin clearing well-established camps that included many wood frame structures.

“As of this week, all of our resources are being focused on this site,” says Jackie St. Louis, a senior manager with Homeless Response for the city’s Department of Human Services. His team of outreach workers have been letting camp residents know of the pending clean up over the last several weeks.

Many of the estimated 75 residents that once lived in the greenbelt heeded the warning and left before the heavy machinery arrived. By city policy, no clean up can begin until there is shelter space for all residents, even if they don’t accept.

“We’ve been planning for this and holding back on offer space to others so we can have enough for the people here,” says St. Louis.

Some of the individual camps sprawled deep in ravines away from public view. One camp had an electronic sensor to warn its occupants as people approached.

“They got a sensor that sends a light out to some sort of reflector in here and every time you walk up you always get a beep,” says Sgt. Eric Zerr of Seattle’s Navigation Team.

Further down the ravine is the “grotto”, stonework done by hand that turned a stream into a series of pools.

“They obviously done a lot of work down here over time,” says Zerr.

The creator of the grotto is Greg Detrick, who has lived at the encampment more than six years. He says it took him almost four years to construct the grotto.

“I would carry 90-pound bags of cement and mix it with some sand,” says Detrick who like everyone else is being forced to leave. “I hope it becomes part of a park or something, for people to enjoy.”

He says he plans on living out of a van he just bought and will camp on city streets. He says he hasn’t been offered shelter services by the city.

Recently, KOMO News aired a story highlighting the practice of illegal dumping of garbage, abandoned vehicles and construction materials at the Myers Way site where the city routinely picks up garbage residents set in purple plastic bags.

It’s a complaint Seattle Councilwoman Lisa Herbold has talked about.

A city spokesman says the clean-up has been in the works for months and there’s no political motivate for the timing of the cleanup.

“The original use was recreational access, so the city would like to see this property used for that,” says Will Lemke with Seattle’s Homeless Response.

Seattle Parks and Recreation Department will spend the next 3-to-6 months renovating the area to allow for more public access by removing brush and debris and replanting of trees. During this time, the department will be exploring uses of the site such as a dog park and urban trails.

One resident of the camp, who did not want to be identified, doesn’t like that idea.

“The dogs are going to have a place to stay and run and have fun,” he says as he was carting stuff out of his camp. “We are just here trying to stay, get a job, do what we can to get out ourselves out of here.”

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