Volunteers who found human remains while cleaning up Seattle encampment push for change in policies

Severely decomposed human remains were found at a Seattle homeless encampment while volunteers were doing a cleanup, and now, those volunteers are calling on local lawmakers to improve policies and practices regarding outreach. 

On Jan. 8, the remains were found on a slope off Highway 99 by a group of volunteers from We Heart Seattle, a non-profit organization whose mission is to clean up Seattle's green spaces and help get people off the streets. 

"This man didn't just pass away," We Heart Seattle founder Andrea Suarez said. "He has been there for years completely decomposed down to the bones. I wonder who is this person's parents? Do they have an uncle? Do they have children that are looking for him?"

She believes the person had been there for years, their clothes were still on and an American flag was lying near the body. 

"We believed him to be a fisherman who jumped on a boat right here based on uniforms, tactical gear, the type of books he read," Suarez said. "So this was a human being that did something other than sadly perishing in our green space." 

Speculations she can only make based on the findings in their encampment since the medical examiner has not yet identified them. Still, Suarez says she salvaged what few belongings she believed their family would appreciate.  


Severely decomposed body found at Seattle homeless encampment

A decomposing body was found at a homeless encampment in Seattle while a volunteer was conducting outreach services in the area.

She fears this is a trend that won't slow if changes aren’t made. 

"We are hopeful that with the new council and some change up at King County Regional Housing Authority and at the King County level that better policies and better practices in outreach will be adopted," Suarez said.

She firmly believes in recovery before housing. The organization founder says some of the volunteers have been unhoused before and being those boots on the ground, serving as first responders to these grim discoveries is tough.

"One of our volunteers found two passed away folks in honey buckets, in children's playgrounds, in RVs, in vans, in tents, right out in plain sight near our stadiums," Suarez said.

In the last four years, We Heart Seattle has found the remains of 12 people. In the first month of 2024, volunteers have already found two. 

"This is no way to allow people to live," Suarez said. "We're not done cleaning and I do expect to find potentially other remains up here at this point. I won't be surprised if I do." 

We Heart Seattle will be back to clean up the rest of the encampment on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. visit here for more information.

"It gives us purpose and brings the community together," Suarez said.