Moving everyone out of the Seattle homeless encampments known as The Jungle is going to take more than several weeks and could be impossible in the long term, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray acknowledged Wednesday.
Moving everyone out of the Seattle homeless encampments known as The Jungle is going to take more than several weeks and could be impossible in the long term.
That’s what Mayor Ed Murray acknowledged Wednesday, a week after he and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a joint plan to clear out and clean up the unauthorized encampments under and along a stretch of Interstate 5 between Sodo and Beacon Hill.
“The story doesn’t end in a few weeks,” the mayor said during a news conference, later adding, “To say you could get everybody out forever, I think, is not possible.”
Last week, Murray said outreach workers from the Union Gospel Mission would spend about two weeks helping people out of the encampments by offering them shelter and other services. Then city and state crews would begin ridding The Jungle of public-safety hazards such as garbage, human waste and overgrown brush.
That’s still the plan, but the mayor struck a less confident tone Wednesday, as a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue the city.
“I don’t have the answer,” Murray said, speaking about The Jungle and Seattle’s overall homelessness crisis. “We’re actually making this up as we go along.”
The state Department of Transportation intends to move equipment into the area in early June to begin cleaning it up, spokesman Travis Phelps said Wednesday.
But Murray, who struggled at the news conference to paint a coherent picture of his policy for The Jungle, said he believes people will still be living there next month.
“This is going to take us a very long time,” the mayor told reporters, agreeing with critics, including some City Council members, who have questioned the schedule.
Murray at one point Wednesday said an estimated 65 people are now living in the area, down from the hundreds of people who were camped out there in January.
But following the news conference, Jeff Lilley, president of the Mission, said his outreach workers made more than 150 contacts with campers Monday and Tuesday alone, while canvassing only part of The Jungle.
Murray was unclear about whether people living in the encampments will be forced to move. On one hand, he stressed the Mission’s outreach work. “We’re not doing sweeps,” he said. “We’re going in again and again and again and offering services.”
But he also emphasized how unsafe the area is and said no one should be living there. Murray said there have been 91 emergency calls from The Jungle this year.
“If you want to call it a sweep, call it a sweep. I call it trying to save lives,” he said, adding, “We cannot leave people in a situation that is … incredibly dangerous.”
Murray said campers will be moved if they’re living where they might be hurt by bulldozers cleaning up the area. He said the main goal will be to help people, however.
“I know people want the story, because it’s the old story in Seattle: Mayor bulldozes homeless,” he said, adding. “But we’re actually having a very different dialogue.”
Some people will leave for other or new unauthorized encampments rather than enter an imperfect shelter system, Murray conceded. Better that than allow people to remain in The Jungle, which is “the worst of pretty bad options,” the mayor said.
Sally Bagshaw and Mike O’Brien disagree. The two council members, who have been working on legislation aimed at slowing down the Murray-Inslee plan, argue the city should bring portable toilets, garbage collection and needle bins to The Jungle until permanent housing is available for campers who don’t want to stay in shelters.
“Until we have housing for folks, simply saying you can’t be here just relocates them,” O’Brien said in a news conference with Bagshaw minutes after the mayor’s.
Bagshaw said crews should clean up the area section-by-section to minimize displacement. She said the city should avoid pushing campers into Chinatown International District and other neighborhoods.
“It doesn’t make sense to just chase people around,” she said.
During a committee meeting Wednesday, council members asked the Mission’s Lilley whether his Christian organization requires the people it helps to pray or subscribe to the faith. He insisted that’s not the case.
Lilley has said the imminent cleanup is now motivating people in The Jungle to seek help sooner rather than later.
But ACLU of Washington Deputy Director Jennifer Shaw said her group is preparing a lawsuit to stop the city from sweeping encampments, including The Jungle, until it can offer everyone permanent housing.
“San Jose spent 18 months on its own jungle,” Shaw said. “By the time the bulldozers came in, the people were gone. That’s an actual solution.”