SEATTLE - Drivers are expressing concerns over a homeless camp on an elevated platform that sits on a Beacon Hill greenbelt along the interchange at I-90 and I-5.
A KIRO 7 News crew went to check into the camp after a Reddit post about the camp started trending on Tuesday. The camp – with one large tent on the platform and several others around it – has been there for a year, according to people living there.
The platform is made of pallets. It’s about 15 feet from the highway embankment and drilled into the ground.
KIRO 7 News asked the city of Seattle if this camp was considered hazardous. Communications director Julie Moore says that because the camp is “not a priority for removal.”
“Encampments that manage waste, are not involved in criminal or violent behavior, and do not pose imminent objective safety risks are a lower priority,” she wrote. “The residents at this location are managing their waste relatively well. As to other hazards associated with the proximity to the freeway, the tents/structures are set back further from the edge of the retaining wall than it appears in the [Reddit] photo.”
The Navigation Team – a new city effort involving highly-trained officers and outreach workers – will visit the camp on Wednesday for outreach and to assess the site’s conditions.
Nearly a month ago, KIRO 7 News talked to the Human Services Department about other precariously placed camps near I-5. In some cases, close proximity of camps to highways can warrant removal.
“We identify areas by hazard and if the people living there are too close to the side of the highway,” said Meg Olberding, the Seattle director of external affairs, Human Services Department. “For the public, if someone fell [from the camp], walking back and forth, that could create major accidents.”
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When a camp is considered hazardous, the city says it launches its navigation team to offers services to homeless people and a safer location like a sanctioned encampment.
But even with the new navigation team, Olberding says there is no way to check up regularly on the city’s 400 camps.
“There’s not a whole lot to prevent people from coming back,” Olberding said. “There was a danger under the Spokane Street bridge, there were enough RV fires, a big hazard [to the bridge], and we can’t have that. We fenced it off.”
In that incident, two RVs parked under the Spokane Street Bridge, also called the West Seattle low-level bridge, went up in flames on an April morning. A man tried to start the engine to keep warm when the engine failed and caught fire.
KIRO 7 News specifically asked in September if areas along I-5 might be fenced off, such as the greenbelt in North Seattle, which still attracts campers despite the death of a man last year when a car crashed into his tent.
Also, over the spring, homeless people left propane tanks under the Magnolia Bridge’s support beams. A KIRO 7 News investigation resulted in their removal.
But Olberding could not advise on whether any other areas will be fenced off.
The navigation team has cleaned up 143 camps over the past eight months, though it’s not clear how many of those camps quickly returned. Removal information is posted by date here.
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