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Inslee wants to clean up Ship Canal encampment 'as soon as humanly possible'

Tents and structures at a homeless encampment under the Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle are seen after an early morning fire on Thursday, February 9, 2023. (KOMO News)
Tents and structures at a homeless encampment under the Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle are seen after an early morning fire on Thursday, February 9, 2023. (KOMO News)
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Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants to end the homeless encampment under the Ship Canal bridge "as soon as humanly possible."

Inslee made the comment while visiting a tiny home village in Longview in southwest Washington Tuesday when asked about the encampment. Recent data from the King County Regional Homelessness (KCRHA) identified 20 people who live at the illegal Ship Canal encampment.

Residents, including parents of students at the nearby John Stanford International School, have been demanding the agency and its regional partners, including the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), take action.

WSDOT owns the property where the Ship Canal encampment is located. The site has had several recent fires, and three shootings, among other crime and safety concerns.

RELATED | Frustrated residents call on governor to deal with Seattle's illegal Ship Canal encampment

Parents were incensed when they learned that WSDOT was not planning to immediately move residents indoors but instead increase daily outreach workers to connect residents with services. They learned of the plan in a letter from Brian Nielsen, WSDOT's Northwest Region Administrator.

Part of Nielsen's letter stated:

"Some have asked why emergency/congregate shelter isn’t enough. What we know from doing this work is that if the shelter option isn’t a good match, for example, if the environment aggravates mental health issues, or if the facility refuses to allow partners or pets, then people may hold out for a different option that meets their needs. If that happens, then people remain outdoors, creating the same safety concerns all over again either in the same neighborhood or spread out to a new neighborhood where outreach workers may not be able to find them. That isn’t a sustainable solution and it’s not what we are required to provide. The housing offered must be a “meaningful improvement over the individual’s current living situation” and “well-matched to an individual’s assessed needs.” These legislative requirements are meant to ensure that the solution is sustainable and lasting. This approach is proving successful – of the 287 people transitioned from other sites that have been the focus of the state’s right-of-way initiative, 93% remain housed."

Speaking on the Ship Canal bridge Inslee said Tuesday, "We need action there, it's unacceptable to have a housing encampment under I-5 and the Ship Canal Bridge. We want to end the encampment as soon as humanly possible. The neighbors deserve that and I think we have a reasonable plan to get that job done."

RELATED | Parents take Ship Canal Bridge encampment concerns to Seattle City Council

So do community members and Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen who insists there is space available now.

"I think the response from the responsible agencies is insufficient. To clean up trash around the area is not sufficient. We need to bring people inside there is available shelter it does not have to be the high-end version of permanent supportive housing in every case...our office of housing and some nonprofits have some vacancies available we need to have better coordination there is space for people. It’s not a lot but enough for the 20 people who are overnight at this encampment," Pedersen said.

KOMO News has reached out to the Seattle Office of Housing and the KCHRA to determine vacancy rates and if housing is available now why it's not being offered to those residents.

The KCRHA is one of the regional partners — including WSP, the Washington State Department of Commerce and WSDOT — tasked with encampment resolution at the Ship Canal Bridge site, also know as the Pasadena site, named after a cross-street nearby.

KCRHA is leading the outreach effort onsite to connect individuals with services and housing and so far no indication that any individuals have been moved indoors.

Yet at a public meeting last week, KCHRA Director Marc Dones said there is a 22% shelter vacancy rate in the area, which led to parents, community members and councilmember Alex Pedersen to ask why those beds are not being utilized with the encampment in his district or other nearby encampments on WSDOT property that have been linked to fires and other safety concerns.

“I think the governor’s office and state departments need to remind KCRHA that bringing people into safe shelter is a viable option shouldn't have to wait for a particular housing unit to be available," Pedersen said in response to comments about "meaningful" improvement over the individual’s current living situation.

KOMO News caught up with Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell after an event at Westlake Center Wednesday afternoon to ask about the encampment and available shelter beds.

“We have to act with a sense of urgency, we have to shelter people, some are short term some are long term but living in a tent with no water or heat is unacceptable," Harrell said.

When asked what the mayor would say to John Stanford International School parents who ask why can’t the residents be moved into shelter now if space is available, Harrell said, “No. 1, they should keep advocating that their voices are heard, we hear them and respond, I think there is some validity behind what they are saying, they want to see action."

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The mayor said he has assurance from Inslee the start date to move those individuals is soon. KOMO News learned WSDOT crews will be onsite to clean Thursday morning.

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