Unhoused encampment along busy Seattle thoroughfare faces imminent sweep

The number of unhoused individuals in Seattle is slowly decreasing according to recent city data, but for commuters traveling south on the 99 Tunnel, encampments remain a visible reality.

What started with one tent has grown into dozens, including pets. Camp residents have been notified they must vacate the area by next week or risk being swept.

Joe, who has lived in the encampment on Harrison Street for the past three months, shared his experience.

"It really can happen to anybody," Joe said. He has been living on the streets for nine years after losing his job and subsequently, his home. "You can't have a job unless you have a stable place to live and getting a stable place to live without a job is almost impossible."

Despite the instability, some find moments of joy in the encampment. Between a patch of grass and the sidewalk, residents and their pets play fetch amidst the constant commotion of passing traffic.

Outreach workers have been on-site, providing water, trash bags, and connections to shelters and other services, continuing to seek a permanent solution. Joe has been through this process nine times, often finding himself at the bottom of the priority list. 

"I just be the last on the roster," Joe said; he follows families, couples and people with disabilities.

City data shows a 30% decrease in encampment sites, from 227 in December to 179 in March, and the number of tents is down 34% from 523 to 345 during the same period.


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However, the struggle for housing persists. Krisanna Marteeny, 28, another resident of the encampment, expressed the challenges of securing housing. 

"This is what we have to do to be put into place because if we just go and say ‘hey, we want housing,’ they put you on a list and, well, it's like the day never comes," Marteeny said.

During a recent visit to the encampment, police and parks staff handed out notices, reminding residents of the impending deadline to clear out. Krisanna, who has been battling drug addiction for the past year and a half, acknowledged her need for help. 

"I need to go to detox, that’s the only thing that’s stopping me from doing anything in my life," she admitted.

Andrea Suarez, founder of We Heart Seattle, offered immediate assistance. 

"I will take you to detox right now," Suarez said. Krisanna accepted the help, marking a significant step towards recovery and bidding farewell to her community.

Suarez also emphasized the importance of comprehensive support systems. 

"This is loving people to death," Suarez said. "Without helping people reach self-sufficiency through detox, job navigation, and reunification with their families, it's a revolving door."

The City of Seattle has allocated $165.9 million towards the homelessness response, including cleanup, healthcare, and housing. However, Suarez argues more needs to be done to help individuals achieve long-term stability.

Joe remains hopeful, but uncertain about his future. 

"I’m stuck. I just need a little bit of help up," he said.

City officials state they prioritize encampment cleanups with the highest community impact. Under the One Seattle Homelessness Action Plan, over 850 housing units are under construction or being prepared. A permanent solution, however, remains indefinable.

For now, the residents of the Harrison Street encampment face an uncertain future as they prepare for the impending sweep.


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