The difference between ‘homefree’ and homeless in Western Washington

Sep 27, 2018, 5:26 AM | Updated: 10:23 am

Welcome to Swamp City sign in homeless encampment, homefree...

(Pierce County Sheriff's Office)

(Pierce County Sheriff's Office)

It’s a distinction that people don’t like to talk about around Western Washington, as the homelessness crisis continues to spread tents along freeways and in parks. But there’s an important bit of context that Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer says people should know: There are both homeless and “homefree” living among this crisis.

“A lot of these encampments, people are choosing to live homefree and start giant campgrounds and live without paying bills and responsibilities as an adult,” Troyer told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show. “It’s not because they are all destitute, homeless, and can’t work. So we are talking about two different groups of people here.”

“That means they live without a home; their home is free,” he said. “There is no cost to them to put up their tent or their boards up to live in the woods. They are not paying taxes. They are not paying for a home. They are not paying utilities … they just choose to live that way.”

RELATED: Pierce County cleans 30 tons of trash from homeless encampment

Troyer offers this context as the City of Puyallup and Pierce County are being sued by campers who have been swept from their encampments. They claim that officers and deputies did not give them adequate notice, and that important documents and tools needed for employment were thrown away during the sweeps.

But Troyer counters these claims. He argues that when deputies intend to sweep an encampment, they offer services and any assistance campers may need. They also try to accommodate campers’ private property and personal belongings. He says deputies have visit a camp three to four times before people are evicted. The homefree will just create a new camp elsewhere.

“If they’ve abandoned items, they are gone, and they are not there intentionally, then no, they don’t have a right [to the left items] because they are already violating somebody else’s rights by being on their private property,” Troyer said. “People move in and take over other people’s property and lots, and they are the ones that are causing the problems and breaking the law in the first place. I know a lot of people are not going to agree with that, because they are going to think that these poor people need somewhere to go and live. We are talking about two different groups of people here. That’s what a lot of the politicians, maybe the ones up north, aren’t telling anybody is that some of these people [the homefree] want to live this way.”

“What we take out of there is feces and stolen equipment, trash, broken down bikes, tents and tarps,” he said. “We don’t take personal records. We don’t take them because they are allowed to leave with them.”

Troyer says the “horrific conditions” at encampments are generally unsafe. Homefree addicts attract drug dealers and crime. Neighborhoods generally experience a spike in crime rates when a camp moves in nearby. There is also no way to dispose of trash and waste, so it piles up.

“Heroin needles and all the stuff that comes with a homeless camp,” Troyer said. “And it’s a dangerous job (to clean it up).”

RELATED: Uncle Steve from Swamp City

Troyer is confident in his assertion that there are homeless and homefree living in tents.

“A lot of people don’t want to use that term and try to lump everybody into this homeless ‘oh-me-oh-my type situation;’ it’s not that,” Troyer said. “A lot of these people don’t want to go along with what society’s rules are. When we find kids and people who want help, we will be the first ones to get it to them. We bring services with us. But if people don’t leave until we have to get trespass orders, and they are starting campfires and their own swamp city, and this is choosing how they want to live, it’s not going to happen. We are going to go in there and stop it.”

Ron and Don


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The difference between ‘homefree’ and homeless in Western Washington