Much of the ground under Interstate 5 along Airport Way, that was once connected to Seattle’s largest illegal homeless encampment, is barren.
The tangled bushes and weeds have recently been cleared out by crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation. It looks less like a jungle and more like cultivated farmland.
That makes sense, considering more than 300,000 pounds of debris has been removed from under I-5 after hundreds of homeless people moved out of the encampment known as the “Jungle.”
“So far, over the past several months, we have cleared out 366,000 pounds of debris from under I-5,” WSDOT spokesperson Travis Phelps said.
The City of Seattle, WSDOT, and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission made the final push to move homeless people out of the greenbelt dubbed the “Jungle.” The area just below Beacon Hill and under and around I-5 had — during a count in February 2016 — about 200 tents and an estimated 400 people living in it. That number significantly dropped after gaining national attention from a deadly shooting that put the lawlessness in the area into the limelight.
By October, the Union Gospel Mission estimated about 15 people remained in the “Jungle” after “numerous warnings and encounters.”
The Jungle is now empty, according to Gospel Mission Public Relations Manager Torie Rynning.
“Our outreach director drives by daily and reports that there is still maintenance being done under I-5, and has noted an ongoing presence of police officers to monitor the area,” she said in an email.
The action taken on unauthorized camps hasn’t gone unnoticed by advocate groups, including the ACLU, which filed a class action lawsuit against the city and state on Jan. 19.
“Imagine if government agents came to your home and carted away everything you own, without any warning and without telling you how to get back whatever they didn’t throw out,” said ACLU-WA Legal Director Emily Chiang. “For people living outdoors in Seattle, this horrifying scenario is too often a reality – and has been so for years.”
WSDOT has been working on I-5 since the “Jungle” was cleared. Crews continue to do maintenance and inspections, including on the 38 or so sets of aging expansion joints that exist between Airport Way and the stadiums, according to Phelps. Prior to clearing the area out, it was difficult for crews to reach portions of the heavily used infrastructure, according to past reports.
And the land isn’t totally clear of debris, which, along with vegetation, has included garbage and human waste, Phelps said.
“There’s still more to go, but this is kind of slow, tedious work because of all the rain we’ve been getting,” he said.
The Washington State 2016 Supplemental Transportation Budget allocated $1 million to improve conditions under I-5.
In addition to cleaning the area out, the state is waiting for the weather to improve to build better access to I-5. Right now, even four-wheel-drive vehicles have difficulty reaching some areas due to all the mud.