SEATTLE — Residents at the Arrowhead Gardens senior living apartments are used to having homeless encampments across the street from them in a wooded area owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
The most recent southwest Seattle encampment, however, is completely different from what the seniors have seen before, according to Arrowhead Gardens resident Diane Radischat.
"The other times were encampments," Radischat said. "This one I call an occupation."
She added residents report hearing gunshots on a nightly basis, and they've seen people in the encampment using tractors to clear trees from the WSDOT property.
“They have a bobcat over there felling trees," Radischat said. "This is state property. I think they have a lot of nerve to be felling trees. Why are they doing that in the first place?"
The encampment has grown over the last month to include multiple RVs. The residents of the encampment have also built wooden stairs and fencing between the road and their RVs.
Radischat said the encampment really took off as WSDOT crews were clearing out a large RV encampment under the First Avenue South Bridge in late March.
We would like to have as much emphasis put on the protection of our home as they seem to be staying there," Radischat said. "It’s our front yard, it’s our backyard, it’s our home, and we’re not safe. They’re not safe.
Arrowhead Gardens resident Bonnie Baker told KOMO News that her neighbor's patio was struck by a bullet that is believed to have been shot from the encampment.
"We are very vulnerable people and we came here to live our lives out, we don't feel comfortable, we feel scared," Baker said. "You have to take care of problems, next thing that is going to happen is somebody is going to be physically hurt or killed here."
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The WSDOT sent the following statement in response to questions from KOMO News about the encampment:
Homelessness is a complex issue with no easy solutions that requires a coordinated approach for the safety of those who are in need, nearby residents, the traveling public and our workers who must access sites for inspections and repairs. In addition, access to resources that can make a difference are key in outreach to people living on right of ways or roadsides. We work closely with local partners, who have access to the resources and human services required to provide a pathway to temporary and permanent housing. There are four actions that allow encampments to be removed from WSDOT right of way:
WSDOT’s responsibility and expertise is limited to the last action, the clean-up of right of way. As such we must rely on our partnerships with local jurisdictions, law enforcement and social services when addressing any area with an encampment. And, the overarching need is for creation of safe, secure housing options for people experiencing homelessness, which is well beyond the expertise, ability or funding of a transportation agency. We do engage our partners when there is an immediate safety threat at a particular encampment on our right of way, but given the number of encampments and our limited resources, we are unable to address all of them with the care, compassion and resources such work requires.