Large homeless camps to be cleared along highway to address debris-throwing incidents

SEATTLE — City and state agencies will remove two large homeless camps along I-90 where the majority of the now-209 debris-throwing incidents have been reported.

Washington State Patrol arrested a fifth person Tuesday for throwing debris into the westbound lanes of traffic along I-90 near Rainier Avenue, causing damage to seven vehicles.

WSP said two people, who were inside one of the vehicles that was damaged, took matters into their own hands and got out of their car to chase down the person responsible.

A trooper, who was in the area on an unrelated case, was able to arrest the man. He was booked into King County Jail and is only described as a 41-year-old from Seattle.

In total, five people have now been arrested for throwing debris into traffic in recent weeks.

Tuesday’s incident adds to the ever-growing number of reports of debris being thrown on the highway.

Since April, 209 debris-throwing incidents have been reported to WSP on King County thoroughfares, the majority of which have taken place in the downtown corridor.

“This has been happening very frequently over the last month and a half, so the state patrol is continuing to dedicate extra resources, extra troopers, extra patrols,” said WSP Trooper Chase Van Cleave.

The area near Rainier Avenue and I-90 has become a hot spot for incidents.

According to Washington State Department of Transportation, part of the issue stems from two large homeless encampments that are located on each side of the highway.

On Sunday, a driver’s dashcam caught a debris-thrower in the act just outside of one of the camps.

“The debris and rock throwing in proximity to specific encampments off of I-90 and I-5 is a public safety threat that we take very seriously and must be addressed immediately,” a WSDOT spokesperson said in a statement to KIRO 7.

On Tuesday, WSDOT and the City of Seattle hung flyers on trees and fences around both makeshift shelter areas, notifying occupants that they had two days to pack up and leave.

“After surveying the site with WSP, it has been determined the encampment at the Benvenuto Viewpoint is a safety risk and must be removed, along with another location adjacent to the westbound I-90 off-ramp to Rainier Avenue. Unlike previous efforts in which a notice of removal is posted 72 hours in advance, we must act quickly. We are posting the area today for removal on Thursday, July 22,” WSDOT’s statement continued.

“THIS IS NOT AN AUTHORIZED AREA FOR STORAGE OR SHELTER. All material will be subject to disposal,” the flyer with the WSDOT letterhead reads.

According to the second flyer, posted by the City of Seattle, occupants have until 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 22 to clear any belongings.

“Materials in this area are an obstruction of the intended use of this property, are in a hazardous location or present a hazard. This is not an authorized area for storage or shelters. Any materials left here will be removed by the City on or after the date and time posted above, and belongings found by the City and authorized for storage will be kept for 70 days at no charge,” the City of Seattle’s notice reads.

WSDOT said come Thursday, the city would begin to remove the debris. The city will also do outreach for the people currently living in those spaces to provide resources and offer temporary storage for their personal belongings.

In a statement from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, a spokesperson told KIRO 7 the city was working closely with WSDOT to address the issue immediately.

“While the encampment is on WSDOT property, Seattle parks has worked with WSDOT to maintain this area over the years through a joint agreement. We are working together to utilize city contracted providers to the individuals living in the encampment and city staff to help with storage which will be reimbursed by WSDOT.

“This past legislative session, Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee fought to add at least $400 million statewide to address homelessness so WSDOT and the city could have the appropriate resources to address this issue as there are thousands of individuals living unsheltered on WSDOT properties and city parks and sidewalks.”

Once the encampments are cleared, WSDOT will then modify the area to discourage people from occupying the site in the future.

Even with a fifth arrest and efforts to mitigate problem areas, WSP intends to continue its increased patrols in the area.

“We’re not going to treat this as the end of it; we’re not going to celebrate in any way, shape or form that we’ve solved this; we’re going to continue our patrols and were going to continue the emphasis until we know that the people driving on these roadways are safe,” Van Cleave said.

WSP asks that drivers stay on the lookout and report any suspicious or abnormal behavior near the roadways, even if they aren’t directly involved.

For outreach and housing support call 211 or 206-461-3222.

To recover belongings or ask about storage call 206-459-9949.