Seattle assessor team finds ‘tragic, unsanitary’ conditions among homeless in 'The Jungle'

SEATTLE -- It took three hours for a team of close to 50 city and state officials to tour the nearly 2-mile long homeless camp called "The Jungle" Thursday.

Led by  Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, the assessment is the first in-depth look at the area in decades.

Scoggins said the living conditions in the unsanctioned homeless camp are tragic and unsanitary.

The team counted more than 120 campsites under the freeway and in the brush but nobody knows for sure exactly how many people are living there.

Assessors started in the rain and soon got a close-up look at what most people living in area already know -- piles of trash, discarded needles and scores of people living in squalor.

“Pretty tragic living conditions,” said Scoggins. “All the things you would expect to see when you have large amounts of people congregated in unsanitary conditions.”

It’s not a sweep -- officials called the tour an assessment.

City and state agencies want to gauge living and safety conditions in the unsanctioned camp after a shooting there Tuesday night left 2 homeless people dead and 3 more injured. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole said investigators believe the shooting was related to "low-level drug dealing."

"The fact we can have open access under the (I-5) freeway, from a law enforcement perspective, those are big concerns for me,” said Assistant Seattle Police Chief Steve Wilske.

“It’s too late, they coming too late to check like that,” said a homeless man named Muhammad who sometimes camps in The Jungle.

He hopes the tour will shine a light on the dangers most people living in the camp already know.

“See what’s wrong, come fix it,” he said.

Just north of The Jungle sits the Nickelsville homeless camp that is sanctioned by the city. People living here aren’t allowed to have weapons, drugs or alcohol.

The Low Incoming Housing Institute helps run Nickelsville.  Institute Executive Director Sharon Lee said The Jungle also has a negative impact on their community.

“Sometimes there are people from The Jungle who will come over and create problems,” she said.

Assessors didn’t conduct any formal interviews in The Jungle on Thursday; the tour is a fact-finding mission. The camp is large and sprawling and officials now have an idea of the dangers underneath the freeway.

“We’re going to come up with a plan to how to deal with the jungle and make it, from my standpoint, a safe place where my officers can effectively police,” said Wilske.

Scoggins said the team is already working on a report, which could find it’s way to Mayor Ed Murray’s desk in a few days.