A large homeless encampment visible from Interstates 90 and 5 will be cleared this month.
Some say it’s an extension of The Jungle. Others call it The Hills.
Whatever its name, most of the homeless people who make camp underneath bridges and along the grassy hillsides near Interstate 90 and Rainier Avenue South in Seattle know that it will be gone soon.
City officials will begin clearing the sprawling camp Tuesday, starting with a triangle of green space between the Interstate 90 ramps to Rainier, known at the Cloverleaf. The larger section, between South Dearborn Street and I-90, stretching to Interstate 5, will be cleared next week.
It’s the latest in a series of so-called sweeps that have seen the removal of highly visible homeless encampments in Sodo and the Central District.
In March, city officials evicted campers from a long-standing encampment at South Royal Brougham and Airport Way South. A month later, dozens of people living in motor homes and other vehicles were forced to vacate the underbelly of the Spokane Street Viaduct in Sodo after one caught fire.
City officials ordered this camp cleared last month, citing concerns over public safety and sanitation. In April, Seattle police served a drug warrant on a tent there and seized several pistols and rifles.
While residents of smaller camps are typically given only 72 hours’ notice before a sweep, city officials said outreach workers spent about two weeks helping people connect with services and find alternative living situations.
Officials estimate that 80 to 100 people were living at the camp at its peak. Days before the scheduled sweep, several tents still lined the span of the greenbelt.
Nicholas Sholeway said he’s lived at the Cloverleaf for two years and prefers it to the local shelters. “People came back after the last time they moved us,” he said. “They’re gonna come back again.”
Speaking at his own tent, Charles Cleary said he’s lived in the camp on and off for two years and has “never seen it this crowded.”
“It’s people moving over from the Jungle or from wherever else,” he said. “This seems like the spot people come when they run out of the other camps.”
The sweep comes as city officials continue a campaign to balance public- safety concerns around the camps with humane efforts to move people off the street and into permanent shelter.
Some residents have complained about the mounds of trash visible from the highway overpasses and offramps that intersect the camp.
Others worry that the city is forcing some to move without a guarantee of a more permanent alternative. Mark Lloyd, one of a handful of volunteers who have regularly helped campers with food, supplies and trash pickup, said it’s easy to be sympathetic to the city’s concerns. “But the reality is that right now they’re still adding capacity,” he said.
Delays have pushed to summer the opening of the Seattle Navigation Center, a 24-hour emergency shelter for the homeless. Officials have said the facility will act as a stopgap for those moving immediately from the streets and unauthorized encampments.
Still, Seattle officials say that progress is being made. Since forming in January, the city’s Navigation Team, a specialized group of outreach workers and police, has made contact with 499 people living in the city without shelter, according to city figures.
Team members connected 342 with some type off service program, and helped relocate 137 to a local shelter or one of the city’s three authorized encampments.
As of last Thursday, five people living at the Dearborn Street camp accepted offers of shelter in the city’s tiny house villages in Georgetown and Licton Springs.
Sidney McCorvey said he’d take advantage of a space in one of the authorized camps if it was available.
McCorvey, 38, said he moved to the Dearborn section of the camp last January after being evicted from another camp on Jackson Street. Struggles with opiate addiction have kept him on the streets for the past two years, he said. He said he’ll take whatever help he can to get sober so he can see his two estranged daughters again.
“Everything is double-hard out here, including being clean,” he said. “The solution for me might be leaving.”