Latest deaths at Seattle encampment have people saying city’s homelessness response needs to change

SEATTLE — Arson detectives from the Seattle Police Department were back at a homeless encampment in the Mount Baker neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, looking for signs of any suspicious activity related to a deadly fire.

Fire crews found the bodies of two people – a man and a woman – after a fire early Monday morning at a structure in the encampment near the Mount Baker light rail station.

“This was a very, very tragic incident,” said Kristin Tinsley, a spokesperson for the Seattle Fire Department.

The aftermath of Monday’s deadly fire showed a thousand square-foot area that burned down to only charred rubble.

“When crews were rolling into the scene, they saw flames that were 40 feet high in the air coming from an encampment structure that was made primarily from tarps and pallets,” Tinsley said.

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These latest fatalities tied with encampments have a group called “Compassion Seattle” saying the city’s current solutions to the homelessness crisis are not working. The group is behind a new effort to shake up how the city helps people who are unhoused.

The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) is one organization that supports the effort. It says the fire, recent shootings at camps, and massive encampments, show the crisis has only worsened.

“It was emblematic of our city’s inability to make progress on this human crisis. We can do better than that,” said Jon Scholes, president and CEO of DSA.

Compassion Seattle wants to modify the city’s charter – basically the city’s constitution – to mandate the city to provide mental health and drug addiction treatment, as well as emergency and permanent housing.

People have been collecting signatures since April. The group needs 33,060 valid signatures from Seattle voters to get the charter amendment on the ballot this November. They have 10 days left – and organizers say they are close.

“It’s been going very well. We are confident we are going to meet our goal,” Scholes said.

A spokesperson for Compassion Seattle said they were aiming for around 50,000 signatures to make sure they have enough.

As for the encampment fire, the one in the Mount Baker neighborhood was particularly devastating. However, Seattle Fire says it responds to “hundreds of calls at encampments” every year – adding up to several calls daily to homeless camps, whether they’re for fires, or medical calls.

Investigators have not yet determined what caused the fire and say they’re waiting for autopsy results, which may impact the investigation.