Pierce County deputies help ‘Uncle Steve’ from ‘Swamp City’

Jun 5, 2018, 3:09 PM | Updated: 4:11 pm
camp swampy, swamp city...
The Pierce County Sheriff's Office cleared 30 tons of garbage from the illegal encampment. (Pierce County Sheriff's Office)
(Pierce County Sheriff's Office)

Last week, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said it cleaned up 30 tons of waste at a homeless camp called “Swamp City.”

RELATED: Pierce County Sheriff’s Office cleans up 30 tons of waste

There were about 50 different people living in Swamp City, using tents and shelters that they built. About 100 additional people would come and go to buy drugs in the woods near Canyon Road and State Route 512.

“Swamp City was an area where we had people, basically, turn it into a large campground … taking over multiple levels of private property,” Pierce County Sheriff spokesperson Ed Troyer told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don. “While that occurred we had huge spikes in crime, drug overdoses, medical aid calls, people roaming in traffic. It just caused mayhem all over the business community and in the neighborhood in that area.”

Pierce County deputies contacted property owners affected by the camp and organized court paperwork to get trespassing orders. They gave the campers limited options: leave or go to jail. But they also brought in agencies to offer services and help with drug addiction. They even offered jobs. After they left, about 30 tons of human waste, needles, and stolen items like bikes were removed from the camp.

Most everything in the camp was drugs, thievery, and “all kinds of people there who don’t want to work,” Troyer said. Basically, they opted to live in the campground instead of living by any rules. And those aren’t Troyer’s words, exactly. They come from a camper named “Uncle Steve.”

“Uncle Steve was a name we saw on some of the signs, and he was the leader of this particular Swamp City,” Troyer said. “Turns out, we did make contact with him and had some actual success with him in this past week. We worked with hm. He really got honest with us and worked with our deputies, and filled them in on how he got there, and why other people were there. He actually decided that he wanted help to turn his life around.”

Uncle Steve from Swamp City

Uncle Steve is accepting help from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. Below is an email from a Pierce County deputy working closely on the cleanup project explaining the situation.

Another interesting note: I contacted a guy who identifies himself as the original camper from Swamp City. I have talked to a lot of the trespassers who call him “Uncle Steve” and they all seem to have a lot of respect and care for him and say he has been there the longest. He has a great story. He and his now deceased best friend where the first to set up camp and no one set up without their approval. When his friend suddenly died the younger campers took over. Up to 100 trespassers would come and go in a single day (mostly to buy drugs from one occupant in particular.) He said an average of 50 people occupied the woods daily in recent months. He said he is actually really glad we took action. He called the other trespassers “Young, mostly drug users and sellers and a bunch of thieves.” He went on to say they are mostly all capable of working and are not homeless but choose this life because they don’t want to follow the rules anywhere else (those are his words exactly!)

He used to work for a local truss company and when they closed their doors for business he started selling cocaine. His family did the “tough love thing” with him. He was stubborn and determined to show he could live at rock bottom without getting help. He stopped using and selling cocaine and started drinking. He has been in the woods for about 7 ½ years. On Thursday afternoon, we talked a lot and I offered him assistance. He seemed to be genuine (talking about his 18-year-old son who he never sees and lives in Tacoma, his elderly father who has been sick, etc.) as he talked and cried he wiped tears and told us he hasn’t been emotional like this before. He restated he was glad we took action and cleared out the trespassers. He was upset about how the land had been dumped on and he was upset to talk about all the theft the other crimes trespassers did daily in the area. We told him we wanted to see him accept services and turn things around for himself. He accepted services and told us he would be “The one” who turns it around and that he was willing to do the work to make it happen.

We will see. Thursday afternoon he was picked up by a Comprehensive Life Resources person who took him to get a shower, clean clothes, food and identification. They will work with him to create a plan that allows him to move forward. I’m not sure what that looks like but I will keep tabs on it and let you know. This guy is the face of your story. He tells it from firsthand experience and calls it what it is, “thieves, trespassers, drug users and sellers etc.”

Ron and Don

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Pierce County deputies help ‘Uncle Steve’ from ‘Swamp City’