Seattle cleans up U-District homeless camp, but most there opt to stay on the streets

City officials clean up homeless camp in the University District (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- From one neighborhood to the next, a Seattle homeless encampment and all its debris and human waste are now gone.

The city cleaned it up Tuesday, but most of the homeless have opted to stay on the streets.

Hundreds of needles, mounds of refuse, human feces, strewn trash and rats are all part of life in a public-owned lot on Seattle's 40th Street and Pasadena Place. For more than three months, the unsanctioned homeless encampment in the University District had morphed into a city-deemed health hazard.

One city worker called it a waste field.

"I think that's the main problem -- we don't pick up after ourselves and it makes us look bad," said Joe, who didn't want to share his last name. He's been bouncing from one homeless encampment for the last four years.

The city said all 20 campers were warned about the shutdown and had 72 hours to get their belongings packed up and moved out. The city said each camper was offered space in a shelter and case management help but only three took the city up on its offer.

The majority are like Joe.

" It's a choice for me to be homeless," said Joe, who said at some point soon he hopes to find work. In the meantime, he's thinking about heading north to a Green Lake neighborhood.

Some of the homeless forced out of the U-District set up an encampment in Green Lake practically overnight. A long strip of greenbelt is now dotted with mounds under tarps, tents, pallets and some chairs.

The city said the property is similar to the lot in the University District -- public land that likely belongs to Seattle DOT or Washington DOT, said a city spokesman.

Homeless campers seem to know city guidelines will keep them undisturbed, unless they violate one of eight city codes - including public health and safety regulations.

"It kind of really has a homey vibe to it," said Natina. She moved in Tuedsay and said a neighborhood council helped her move all of her heavy belongings.

While she sets up camp, her parents are raising her two young children, 5- and 4-years-old.

The self-described former addict insisted living in a tent is better for her recovery.

"I'm not trying to associate with people staying at shelters," she said. "It can be triggering to see people flying off the walls."

"That's just where they're at in this space and time," said Seattle Police Sgt Eric Zerr, a member of Seattle's Navigation Team, a specially trained group of outreach workers and Seattle Police Officers, "There is always about a third of the people that just don't want to engage with us right now and they are not willing to take services right now."

Zerr said on average, it takes four encounters before most homeless will take their help.

Some Green Lake neighbors we met said they are anxious about the new camp, but one woman told me it's a crisis still in search of a solution.

"I've been out here a year and a half trying to get on my feet, stumbling here and there but working on it," said Natina.

The city stressed residential complaints alone won't trigger a camp cleanup, but violations will prompt city action.

Residents can report violations by calling the city's Customer Service Bureau or using their 'Find it, Fix it' mobile app.

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