Only in Seattle would closure of the fetid homeless camp called The Jungle be equated with a wall along the border with Mexico.
THE lawless, fetid homeless camp known as The Jungle, along the western slope of Seattle’s Beacon Hill, has conditions you would expect in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or Nairobi, Kenya.
More than 750 emergency calls, including 250 reporting fires, originated from the greenbelt along and under Interstate 5 over the past five years. Law enforcement says assaults, overdoses and rapes are routine — police responded to 17 violent incidents just last year, although most went unreported. Human waste flows from open latrines.
The recent killing of two homeless people and the wounding of three more awakened the public to the danger and immorality of allowing such a camp to fester right in the middle of this affluent city, as it has for decades.
How do some on the Seattle City Council respond to this awakening? By blasting a prudent response — to clean up and fence off the greenbelt — with a flat “no” and making an absurd analogy to America’s incendiary immigration debate.
“We shouldn’t be building a fence on the southern border and we shouldn’t be building a fence on the I-5 corridor,” said Councilmember Lorena González. Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Debora Juarez and Kshama Sawant joined the fray, alternately describing fencing of The Jungle as insane and a waste of money.
Seattle deserves better from its leadership. The humane response to The Jungle is to offer its squatters a wide-open exit door to shelter and human services. The city and All Home King County do deserve criticism for shelter options that don’t appeal to Jungle campers, including homeless couples, or those with dogs. Meeting those needs remains a work in progress.
The status quo in The Jungle is deplorable. Yet, amazingly, some council members and advocates suggest extending water and sanitation into The Jungle.”
The status quo in The Jungle is deplorable. Yet, amazingly, some council members and advocates suggest extending water and sanitation into The Jungle.
A national expert on homelessness, Barbara Poppe, recently said it is “just unconscionable” that Seattle had children living in sanctioned tent camps. And now some Seattle leaders, in the midst of a homeless state of emergency, would set the bar to an even more appallingly lower level.
It is also a level that is unsafe to the public. An official from the state Department of Transportation, which owns The Jungle property, recently reported seeing eight propane tanks bundled together beneath I-5, which could cause catastrophic damage if they erupt. A trade group of industrial and maritime interests, in a letter to the state DOT, asked how the state could allow campers in The Jungle to “hold the state’s major (north-south) freight routes hostage?”
State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, got $1 million into a transportation budget proposal for fencing, cleanup and road improvements into The Jungle, contingent on a longer-term agreement between Seattle, King County and the state. That’s a first step toward ending the untenable status quo.
For that, Carlyle’s proposal gets looped in to hard-line, divisive immigration policies. And the city of Seattle wonders why it has trouble getting what it wants out of Olympia.
Information in this article, originally published March 1, 2016, was corrected March 2, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Reuven Carlyle is a state representative.