Death at Seattle encampment raises questions about addressing homelessness in region

Seattle Police are investigating a suspicious death after the body of a woman was found at an encampment in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Detectives said the woman was believed to be in her 50s or 60s.

Her death is considered an example of a broken support system for some of the region’s most vulnerable residents. However, a regionwide plan to address the homeless crisis remains a tough sell for local governments.

The encampment is located on Mercer Street, in between Fairview Ave N and Minor Ave N. The suspicious death presents another concern for people who live near the site. Some of the neighbors asked to keep their identities private for their safety.

"We don’t really walk around after night in this particular part of SLU," said one man who lives in a nearby apartment. "There’s just garbage that kind of spills out everywhere over the road. The homeless population that have kind of congregated here, and they go through our recycling and our trash bins, dumpsters."

Neighbors said the issues surrounding the encampment and alleys have been growing for some time. FOX 13 has been tracking that site since February. Even then, people expressed their outrage and worries.

"A lot of police, a lot of the fire department goes next door. Sometimes it can be at least four to five times a day," said one woman who lives next to the encampment. "But it’s daily. But it’s like when we do call them and tell them something, they don’t do anything. So, the people that are doing the damages are just getting away with it."

The encampment is on a right-of-way to I-5, owned and operated by Washington State Department of Transportation. Unlike the much-publicized response to the Ship Canal Bridge and Chinatown International District encampment removals, people are starting to question when WSDOT will clear out the SLU camp.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Woman found dead in South Lake Union encampment

WSDOT said it is aware of the encampment and coordinating with partners, including City of Seattle, King County Regional Homelessness Authority, Washington State Patrol and outreach partners. WSDOT explained there are four actions that allow encampments to be removed from a right-of-way:

  • The offering of shelter and services to people living there
  • Storage of their belongings
  • Safety and security for people on site and work crews
  • Restoration and cleanup of the property

When it comes to cleaning and restoring the space, however, WSDOT said it has limited responsibility and expertise. In a written statement, WSDOT said, in part, "As such we must rely on our partnerships with local jurisdictions, law enforcement and social services when addressing any area with an encampment. And, the overarching need is for creation of safe, secure housing options for people experiencing homelessness, which is well beyond the expertise, ability or funding of a transportation agency."

Relocating people from the camp would need to go through the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. KCRHA has been struggling to find permanent living places for campers. KCRHA currently formalizing a five-year $12 billion plan to address housing and support needs throughout the region. However, the draft proposal got an underwhelming response when KCRHA representatives presented it to the King County Council on Wednesday. Council members asked for more specifics on how all that money would be spent.

"We’re going to have to be able to look at the public and tell them what they’re going to get for it," said Claudia Balducci, King County Council member.

RELATED: City of Edmonds ends contract with 'The Hand Up Project,' founder under investigation

Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 13 Seattle app. Download for Apple iOS or Android. And sign up for BREAKING NEWS emails delivered straight to your inbox.

Currently, there are still no specifics on how the KCRHA plan will be funded. Representatives told county council members they will get back to them with specific details before the final vote on the plan in April.