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A five-month-old found in a homeless encampment late last month was placed in the custody of Child Protective Services after Seattle Police Department learned methamphetamine use was reportedly occurring in the tent where the child lived.

Police were alerted to the infant’s situation on May 30 by another person in the encampment, at the 900 block of Poplar Place South just north of the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and I-90, according to a blog post from the SPD.

The child was examined and taken to Seattle Children’s hospital before being turned over to CPS.

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Seattle’s Navigation Team, a collection of outreach case workers and police officers who work with people living in Seattle’s unsanctioned homeless encampments, had visited this camp numerous times before the child was discovered, the police said. Trash and human waste were found at the campsite.

As recently as last year, there were 400 such unsanctioned camps throughout the city.

The city has since removed the encampment but the child’s mother remains in the same area, said Sgt. Eric Zerr, who leads officers on the Navigation Team.

The Navigation Team has remained in contact with the woman as she works to regain custody of her child, Zerr said.

“We’ve met with her several times since then, concerning this and about what she’s doing and what her plan is” to move into housing, he said.

The Navigation Team was familiar with the child’s mother and knew months ago that she was pregnant, Zerr said. But they hadn’t seen for a long time, and learned last month she was living in a camp with the baby.

Zerr said the Navigation Team gets calls about children in unsanctioned camps about once a month. Some cases are resolved “without incident,” he said.

Finding a child or a minor in a camp doesn’t automatically trigger a call to CPS, he said. That depends on the circumstances.

In the incident at the camp at Poplar Place, the “living conditions” prompted the involvement of CPS, he said.

In another recent incident, authorities learned of a girl living with her mother in another camp. The Navigation Team visited and learned the girl normally stays with her mother’s cousin but had wanted to visit her mother for a week. The Navigation Team worked out an arrangement so that the mother could stay with her daughter in her cousin’s house for a week.

“Families are trying the best they can,” Zerr said. “Sometimes the greatest choices aren’t made,” but they aren’t necessarily trying to put their children in danger in the camps.

Currently, the Navigation Team is trying to find a large family that has been spotted near Costco in the Sodo district. The children in the family have been seen panhandling.

The Navigation Team makes it a priority to find immediate shelter or housing for families living in a camp, particularly those with young children, Zerr said.  They also will work to bring resources to the family.

About 782 families were recorded in King County’s 2018 homeless point in time count, a one-night snapshot of the region’s homeless population.

But the number of families actually experiencing homelessness is likely much higher. King County reported 2,118 family households on a waiting list for housing in the fourth quarter of last year.

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