Illegal dumping outside homeless encampments rising dramatically

SEATTLE — Piles of trash near encampments aren't just created by the homeless.  KIRO 7 has learned businesses and individuals are stashing their trash near camps to hide their illegal dumping. And taxpayers are paying to clean it up.

The city of Seattle spends about $200,000 a year to pick up garbage at homeless camps.  And Illegal dumping is up 193% just in the last few years.

For the last year, thanks to a special pilot project, it has become routine for city workers to clean up the trash at homeless encampments. But what they are increasingly finding is that people who are not homeless are using this public land to dump their private trash.

Idris Beauregard oversees the illegal dumping division at Seattle Public Utilities.

"And we could make a safe assumption that this type of material is not in the encampment," said Beauregard. "And we often get feedback from campers, persons living in encampments, that late at night big trucks come through with contractor stickers on them and dump these type of materials."

If caught, they face thousands of dollars in fines.

"It's an illegal dumping," said Beauregard. "It's a crime to illegally drop illegal material in the public right-of-way."

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Beauregard stood along Myers Way in South Park. But a map on SPU's website shows illegal dumping is happening all over the city and often near homeless encampments.  Much of what is discarded appears to be trash from the building trades.

"Yep, so you can see where it was purchased at," Beauregard said, inspecting a large piece of construction paper. "Some of the tagging there, real cedar wood. So this was actually a purchase that somebody went and purchased the wood. Afterward, they needed to discard their materials and wanted to avoid paying transfer station fees. And (they) took advantage of this open opportunity right here next to an encampment."

Just four years ago, there were nearly 6,000 reports of illegal dumping.  In 2015, the reports nearly doubled and the number has continued to rise every year since. Last year, there were nearly 17,500, a 193% increase since 2014.

"Yesterday we were sitting here, about three or four of us sitting here,"  said James Long, who says he has been homeless for a couple of years. "And a woman comes pulling up here in about a 2015 Nissan."

Long saw it happen at the Myers Way encampment.

"She took like about five bags, garbage, and we told her it was against the law and she says, 'I can't have no place to throw it.' I said, lady, there's a dump. And I figure, she's driving a nice car like that, dressed the way she was, she could afford the dump."

Wanda, who is also homeless, says she has witnessed some of the consequences, too.

"Because I see most of my friends and how they dig into the garbage and all the garbage that these people just throw here," she said. "And it gets them sick. It leaves them with rashes all over their bodies."

Some of the illegal dumpers have been caught because of eyewitness photographs. Otherwise, said Beauregard, holding some discarded material, they leave behind few clues.

"No indicator of a name, an address or anywhere we could track down the perpetrator who dumped it," he said.

So far, the city has been mostly relying on eyewitnesses to spot the illegal dumping. But they are considering also installing cameras, anything, they say, to prevent private citizens from using this public land as their own dumping ground.