Homeless camps along I-90 to be swept Thursday

The problem is nothing new for the Washington State Department of Transportation or officials from the city of Seattle: homeless encampments alongside or underneath freeways intermingle between city and state property boundaries. 

Eventually, the communities grow either too large or unruly, at which point city or state agencies announce plans to sweep the unsanctioned camps. 

That is what has happened along the greenbelts surrounding Rainier Avenue South and Interstate 90 this week. Rocks and debris were tossed onto the freeway damaging vehicles. The incidents grew into more than 200 similar reports since January.

On Tuesday, Washington State Troopers arrested a man accused of throwing materials into freeway traffic. The latest incident spurred WSDOT to announce a plan to sweep a pair of homeless encampments along the interchange. It was described as a matter of public safety, insisting those experiencing homelessness in the immediate area would have to leave Thursday. 

It’s a scenario people working adjacent to or living in, or living nearby homeless encampments have come to recognize as cyclical. The camps are swept, fencing is installed only to be vandalized or destroyed, which then allows access for unsanctioned camps to return and flourish in areas that once were deemed too dangerous for occupation. 

"We’re good people. There might be a little mental illness but we’re all good people," said one woman experiencing homeless.

She agreed to be interviewed by Q13 News as long as her identity was not disclosed. 

She said she has lived outdoors in and near an encampment near 23rd Avenue South for about 3 years. The community lives among the architecture that surrounds I-90. She feared eventually a motorist could be seriously injured or worse. 

"I hope they stop before they kill somebody," she said. 

Since January, more than 200 similar instances were reported to police and WSDOT says it will move at lightning speed to remove two homeless encampments.

The unsanctioned camps can sometimes attract bad news for neighbors like furniture maker Kade Hone, who told Q13 News his studio had been vandalized in recent memory. 

He said he’s seen homeless camps swept time and again and he knows what to expect next.

"In a month it’s all going to return," he said. "They have nowhere else to go."

Hone says he’s not leaving his studio, but those living unsheltered nearby will be forced to find something else when camps are swept.

"We live in a city that’s overrun," said Hone. "There’s really not a good space anymore in the city that you can’t get away from it."

Social workers spent Wednesday reaching out to those in the camps to offer services or shelter. After the camps are swept, WSDOT said it would then figure out ways to discourage people from resettling the areas. 

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