Crews to clear large homeless encampment beneath Tacoma freeway this week

TACOMA, Wash. — This story has been updated with more information from the Port of Tacoma.

A homeless encampment beneath state Route 509 near the Puyallup River will be cleared this week.

Port of Tacoma staff is doing the clean up work for port property, said port communications director Carol Bua.

“We are responding to the escalating health, safety and environmental concerns caused by the encampment, resulting in the need to clean and close access to the area,” Bua said in an email.

The encampment is on land owned by several different owners, including the Port, Union Pacific Railroad, and the Puyallup Tribe.

“We are working in a coordinated effort to clean up the area, with each of the land-owners responsible for cleaning and maintaining their own parcels of land,” Bua said.

Bua said she’s unsure how long the camp has been there but estimated about a dozen people are staying there. Homeless advocates have previously estimated around 30 to 40 people are staying there.

Seventy-two hour notices were posted at the site last week, but encampment removal will not take place until Thursday at the earliest, and is estimated to take several weeks to complete, Bua said.

The city’s homeless outreach team visited the site to provide services and shelter options to the people living there.

“We understand that the campers in this location are facing extremely difficult circumstances, and our intention is to be flexible and allow sufficient time to remove belongings and find an alternative place to stay,” Bua said. “We want to work with everyone and help address needs as much as possible with an understanding that this area will be cleaned and access closed in the near future.”

Port staff will conduct some cleaning, but any hazardous material cleaning will be done by a contractor.

City spokesperson Megan Snow said the outreach team made contact with eight people on May 26, and all of them denied alternative shelter options. Some did express interest in possible safe parking options.

“This experience is reflective of outreach efforts we have made in the area in recent months,” Snow said in an email. “We visited in mid-February and were able to make contact with five individuals who all refused alternate shelter, and again in mid-March we visited and made contact with 9 individuals who all refused connection to alternate shelter or resources.”

A 46-year-old man who goes by the name “Junior” has lived at the encampment for three years, he told The News Tribune. Other encampments on the east side of the Puyallup River have previously been removed, he said.

Junior said multiple strokes and a heart condition prevent him from working and this latest evacuation notice makes him “feel disrespected, degraded, like I’m a lowlife.”

Drew Perine contributed to this report.