A spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said her office is "evaluating the best approach" to address a large unsanctioned homeless camp that popped up over the weekend on land owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation near Green Lake next to a sign that says camping is prohibited.
"This is a city block, and it's pretty much been commandeered," said Gentry Hayward, referring to the 40-plus tents that moved into her neighborhood Saturday.
People in the area said they had no warning, and had trouble finding answers. The land owned by WSDOT is maintained by the city of Seattle.
"I was totally blown away," another resident said. "That was most disconcerting to me, that lack of transparency and not knowing what was happening," she said.
Turns out, a group called Share/Wheel runs the site, called Tent City3.
It says it's a nonprofit that's run tent cities for 20 years in Seattle. The group says it usually provides shelter for people on private property, like at a church, and moves around every 90 days or so.
But the group says insurance challenges left them without a site, so they came to 8th Ave NE and 63rd Street. The group calls it unused city land, but a Seattle City Council member said the land is actually state property.
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"Without shelter, people die," said Michelle Nobles, who lives in the homeless encampment. "We didn't have anywhere to go and so we're doing this to make a stand and to keep people safe."
The mayor's office said it was notified by letter of the encampment the same day the group, Tent City3, started setting up Saturday near I-5 along 8th Avenue and 63rd Street. Tent City3 is a roving homeless encampment that was most recently located at a U-District church.
There are roughly 42 men, women and children living the encampment, according to Michelle Atwood, who also lives in the camp and said she maintains a leadership role with Tent City3. She said there's capacity for more than 100 people in the encampment that is enclosed and has a portable restroom.
People say they understand the challenges of homelessness, but are frustrated something like this can happen at all -- with no warning -- in a space that is clearly marked, "no camping."
"They're operating above the law. There's nothing that can touch them," Hayward said. "As far as we can tell, we don't have any recourse here. And they're going to do what they want to do for as long as they want to do it, and there will be no repercussions," Hayward said.
This neighbor says past, different encampments have caused trouble.
"There was two women that were groped, there's been an increase in property crime, there's no way to justify this isn't going to affect the neighborhood in any way. It's absolutely a safety issue," Hayward said.
KIRO 7 took their concerns to appointed City Council Member Abel Pacheco (District 4).
"Do you hear their frustration?" KIRO7's Deedee Sun asked.
"I hear from the broader community but I also hear very empathetically from a lot of residents in the surrounding area," Pacheco said.
He said the plot of land is technically state property, and there isn't enough shelter space to offer all the people at the camp shelter. And said the city needs to work with the state to figure out what's next.
"We reached out to the mayor's office to coordinate conversation," Pacheco said. "We're trying to figure out what the best option is moving forward," he said.
"Until then I guess we just have to deal with it. Were all kind of beat down here," Hayward said.
Atwood said the group, that is part of SHARE/WHEEL, is currently looking for a new site and moved to the city-owned land after plans elsewhere stalled.
"It's unused city property," said Michelle Atwood. "If they're sober, if they can abide by the rules, do their fair share of the work – we want them to come in because they deserve shelter."
Atwood said they notified surrounding neighbors at the last minute of the encampment.
KIRO 7 asked the mayor's office for its timeline in addressing the encampment and what options the mayor is considering. A spokesperson responded, "We are monitoring the situation and will share appropriate information as it becomes available."
Cox Media Group