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Growing illegal encampment spotted along I-5 in Seattle's U-District

A photo of the growing encampment that is along I-5 in Seattle's University District. (KOMO)
A photo of the growing encampment that is along I-5 in Seattle's University District. (KOMO)
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There's a growing encampment along I-5 in Seattle's University District.

The encampment runs the length of the greenbelt between NE 45th and NE 50th Streets, and in recent weeks more tents have moved in. One homeless man named James told KOMO News he and a few others moved there recently from the nearby Ship Canal encampment, which was cleared about a month ago through a state, county, and city partnership.

Fourteen people living unsheltered were moved inside, according to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). Those 14 people were connected with services and housing in late March, but in early February, KCHRA, in an email, told KOMO News 20 to 25 people were living there, not 14.

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James said he was one of them and that he didn't get housing, so he moved up the street.

When asked about it Tuesday, KCRHA reiterated that all the encampment residents accepted offers of housing and help. A spokesperson said 14 out of 14 people accepted housing and added they were all part of what's called the 'By Name List' - that's an official count of residents living unsheltered at encampments that regional partners are working to help clear and connect people with appropriate housing when available.

"Pasadena, before they kicked everybody out of there, I was staying down there, but now I'm kind of here, on and off," said James, who's been most recently homeless for about five years. He said he would take housing in a 'heartbeat' and has connected with outreach workers off and on.

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He said he and three others who were living under the Ship Canal Bridge moved to the greenbelt just a few blocks to the north.

He said he has "no idea" why he didn't connect with housing but said part of it is that he was coming and going and not always at the encampment when outreach workers were there.

"It's all hit and miss," said James. "A couple of other people down there missed out too."

We discovered Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) workers, along with Seattle Parks Department workers, on-site Tuesday. They said they were assessing the encampment and took photos of tents and debris strewn in the greenbelts along the on and off ramps of 45th and 50th Streets.

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We checked 911 calls in the area recently and discovered several recent encampment fires in the area.

"The fires are crazy and dangerous," James said.

911 data shows five recent encampment fires, mostly in April, and for the same time last year, only one encampment fire. KOMO News reached out to the state, county, and city for the exact numbers of tents and people living unsheltered here. The KCRHA said they will contact outreach workers to get that data.

In a video just posted to YouTube Tuesday by the KCRHA, its CEO Marc Dones called on everyone to help in the effort to house the homeless. He touted recent highway encampment resolutions, including the former Ship Canal encampment.

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"We have resolved 13 long-standing and entrenched encampments," said Dones. "We are already seeing results. We all know we have a long way to go, but in the past year we have made progress."

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