SEATTLE — The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) plans to trespass anyone living at the Ship Canal Bridge homeless encampment who refuses offers of housing and services.
While the agency hasn’t issued an exact timeline on when a trespass order will be issued, regional administrator Brian Nielsen indicated that outreach teams are still trying to connect people living under the bridge to housing services.
“Experience shows that the vast majority of people we interact with are grateful for the offers of housing or services, but for the few that might refuse, they will be trespassed off the site. While the goal is to bring as many as possible indoors permanently, we recognize that we cannot involuntarily force a person into a particular option. We will make every effort to encourage housing and will protect the site from future encampment usage,” Nielsen wrote in a letter to parents at the nearby John Stanford International School.
Nielsen's letter did not say if the people in the camp would be forced to leave after a trespass order is issued.
There are currently 15 people living in the encampment, Nielsen said. One person has been placed in a homeless shelter, and six are on a priority waiting list, according to WSDOT’s update.
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The encampment has been the scene of multiple shootings and fires, prompting outrage from neighbors and parents at John Stanford International School.
“Recent media coverage has increased visibility of the situation and given some comfort to our community but appears to have failed to motivate government agencies to respond to this dangerous situation,” said Lars Christian, who lives near the encampment.
Christian has written letters to WSDOT leaders, as well as Governor Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell.
“Ultimate responsibility for the land on which the settlement is located lies with the State of Washington, and it is state agencies (WSDOT and WSP) which are failing to act. The executive authority to compel these agencies to act lies with Governor Inslee, and his responsibility for the ongoing threat to public safety is clear," wrote in an email Wednesday morning.
In the last week, crews placed portable bathrooms at the encampment and passed out fire extinguishers to mitigate fire risks.
Officials from WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol, and outreach workers with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) have been working at the site for weeks to get people living there into housing.
In February, crews entered the encampment and removed 21 trailers of trash and debris. KOMO cameras recorded an ATM being removed from the encampment.
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Leadership from KCRHA said they couldn't clear the encampment under the state right-of-way program until everyone had been given an offer of housing, which the agency claimed did not include a bed in a homeless shelter.
"We are calling on all parties involved, to clear this illegal campsite immediately and stop supporting criminal activities in our neighborhood. The latest decision to do a cleanup without the actual removal of the illegal trespassers demonstrates the failure to recognize the danger this violent settlement represents. In previous cleanups, the occupants have been removed and fences put up to prevent their reentry to the restricted area. The recent cleanup, by contrast, has left the encampment(s) in place and has no clear (or even expectation) for their removal, Christian wrote.