SEATTLE — Authorities say the homeless encampment underneath the Ship Canal Bridge will be closed down before the end of the month.
The news came down from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) as parents from the John Stanford International School in north Seattle held a demonstration over I-5 Friday morning demand the removal of homeless encampment with a history of violence, fires and drug use.
The Ship Canal Bridge encampment is located within a block of the elementary school in the Wallingford neighborhood. Parents have been asking state officials and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) to speed up the removal of the camp for months.
“It is illegal, they should actually enforce that it is illegal," said parent Eli Hoshor. "People are showing up and being vocal about how ridiculous this is."
According to a letter sent by WSDOT to parents at the Stanford school, homeless outreach teams are in the process of transitioning people in the camp into housing and efforts will begin next week to permanently close the camp.
As parents held signs on the 45th street overpass, advocates with We Heart Seattle attempted to perform outreach at the encampment but were met by counter-protesters with a sign that read 'Sweeps Kill."
Andrea Suareaz, the founder of We Heart Seattle, said one of the demonstrators shoved one of the outreach volunteers.
“We’re there to help. We shouldn’t be stopped by the activists. The activists are there to stop good work," Suarez told KOMO News. “We believe sweeping that camp would be a form of harm reduction for everyone, including the people living there. There’s nothing humane about letting people live there and languish.”
Suarez said her organization was going to provide food, supplies, and gift cards to people in the encampment while also offering trash removal with a dumpster.
“I think this camp should be shut down, it’s a dangerous place for all, especially for the people under the bridge. This is not a humane place to live," Suarez said.
Gov. Jay Inslee visited the site and met with parents at the school last week.
Inslee has said he wants the encampment to be removed 'as soon as humanly possible' once everyone living there has been made an offer of housing.
In 2022, the state 'right of way' initiative allocated $50 million to the KCRHA to provide housing, outreach, and services for people living around freeways in King County.
The Ship Canal Bridge encampment is one of three "priority sites" in the county right now. The other priority sites are in the Chinatown-International District (CID), where 41 people have already been moved into shelter, KCRHA spokesperson Anne Martens told KOMO News on Friday.
The homelessness authority estimates there are 190 people who need housing between the CID and Ship Canal Bridge encampments.
Authorities are expected to begin clearing an encampment on 1st Avenue and Southwest Michigan Street on Monday after 30 people were moved into shelter, according to the KCRHA.
"Other sites remain in progress," KCRHA spokesperson Anne Martens told KOMO News on Friday. "Contracts to open an additional 113 units of emergency housing are near final for two buildings, leased with state funds, to be operated by a nonprofit service provider that will staff the facility with skilled employees who can ensure that people have the case management and the services they need to stabilize and rebuild their lives. One building will start receiving clients next week."
KCRHA has faced mounting pressure to open more tiny home villages as soon as possible to get people out of encampments along the freeways.
Seattle City councilmember Alex Pedersen, who represents the Wallingford area, sent the following statement to KOMO in response to the parents' protest:
“I support the passion of parents sick and tired of government agencies that have allowed more than a dozen people to suffer outside for nearly a year under I-5 in dangerous and inhumane conditions with deaths, fires, gun shots, thefts, and other crimes next to a public elementary school. With all the financial resources and time provided, Washington State officials and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority are overdue in providing shelter and securing this site to prevent any new tragedies on their watch. I continue to implore the responsible agencies to take action now.”
LETTER TO STANFORD SCHOOL PARENTS FROM WSDOT:
Dear John Stanford International School parents,
On behalf of WSDOT, Washington State Patrol, Commerce and KCRHA, I am sharing the latest updates related to resolving the Pasadena/Ship Canal Bridge encampment site including:
Work underway to finalize housing options, begin transitioning people and close site – Teams from King County Regional Homelessness Authority, REACH, PDA and LIHI are finalizing supportive housing options for the approximately 15 people currently living at the encampment. They will begin the process of transitioning individuals next week and the site will close by the end of March.
Continued work this week includes:
Police officer presence – Seattle Police Department officers continue to have a regular presence in the neighborhood surrounding the area as staffing and availability allow.
Site closed to new inhabitants; services and housing matches underway – A ‘by name list’ of individuals living unsheltered at the site has been completed. This list is what service providers use to identify people onsite and match them with services and housing. Outreach workers and crews are on site seven days a week to keep placements moving along as quickly as possible. It also means that the site is closed to new inhabitants and service providers and law enforcement share that message to anyone new who shows up or tries to move to the site. New people who show up are still connected with services, but they are informed that the site is closed.
Tent removal – contractors are beginning to work with outreach and service providers to identify vacated tents and remove them.
Regular trash removal - Thanks to our partners at the City of Seattle, trash pickup continues regularly.
As I mentioned in a previous email, partners involved in the state Right of Way Safety Initiative in King County are concurrently addressing two additional sites in Seattle that have similar concerns, risks and challenges. All together the combined efforts of our partners are addressing the needs of approximately 225+ individuals living unsheltered, matching them with housing and wraparound services.
To date, the following has been accomplished at the Pasadena site:
Access control & fencing – Fencing was installed to manage and downsize the overall footprint of the encampments. Contractors also installed locks on existing gates and placed signs to deter access to “off limits” areas and are creating a single entrance and exit on both the east and west side of the encampment to provide better access control.
Continued trash, debris and vegetation removal – Twenty-one trailer loads of trash and debris have been removed from the site since Feb.22. This reduces fire risk significantly by removing potential flammable material and allows for better access and sight lines.
Sanitation improvements – Portable toilets and hygiene stations were installed on Mon. Feb 27. This is an important harm reduction measure that improves sanitation within the encampment as well as neighboring properties and protects the area from public health and environmental concerns.
Please consider this our agencies’ combined response to the emails that many of you have shared with WSDOT, WSP, Commerce and KCRHA. I will continue to provide updates and answer questions as these actions take place.
I appreciate your time and will provide another update next week to report on progress at the site.
Regional Administrator, Northwest Region