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Six Jungle residents accept help; Mission president says outreach efforts are ‘very well received’

Members of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission hesitated Monday when they came across a man in a tent spinning a sword on his finger. Do they approach or is this a dangerous situation?

“The guy in a tent turns around and looks and sees one of our staff and says, ‘Oh, Brian, how are you doing?’ And he jumps up, runs out, and gives him a big hug,” recounted Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission president Jeff Lilley on KIRO Radio’s “Seattle’s Morning News. “It’s that type of relationship, that these are individuals that we see mostly on a regular basis.”

Related: Rantz: Seattle activists angry City of Seattle is helping the homeless

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission started its deadlined outreach for relocating people living in the notorious ‘Jungle’ into shelters or housing. The city plans to sweep the decades-old homeless encampment that gained national attention after a deadly shooting at the end of last year and has given social workers two weeks to persuade individuals into accepting assistance. the city estimates between 300-400 people living in the illegal encampment that stretches more than 160 acres under and along I-5 between South Dearborn Street and Lucille Street.

Torie Rynning, spokesperson for the Mission, said the first step was a collaborative meeting Friday, with service providers including the Landlord Liaison Project, Salvation Army, the Seattle Municipal Court Diversion Re-entry Specialist, and the Metropolitan Improvement District. The goal was to create a “comprehensive snapshot of the resources available to our friends transitioning out of the East Duwamish Greenbelt.”

Several organizations came forward with designated beds and other options. Lilley said the volunteers were “very well received” Monday and that most everybody was willing to have the conversation.

“They were all aware that the sweep was going to happen so they were willing to talk about solutions and what comes next, and they engaged pretty well with us,” he said.

As of Monday afternoon, the group had engaged with 58 individuals, six of whom took steps to move forward.

The people that have been helped, according to the Mission:

• A woman named Cheryl and her child, who will start the process of moving into one of Union Gospel’s transitional apartments.

• A man named Cliff is being connected with legal services with hopes of getting his housing back.

• They moved Autumn to the organization’s day center/shelter, and two others, Cara and Michelle, will be moving this week. Once there, they will be waiting for an assessment with a case manager from Hope Place, a long-term facility for women and children.

Lilley said the organization’s primary goal is “just to listen,” to hear their stories and find out their history and where to send them for help. Lilley said there was only one individual who didn’t want to talk and literally went into his tent and zipped it up.

“But there were quite a few who did want to engage and some of them may simply say, ‘When it comes time, I will relocate on my own,’” Lilley said. “But along the way they all wanted to talk through it and that’s a motivation that normally, without the sweep coming, wouldn’t even have that conversation.”

While Seattle Union Gospel Mission is a faith-based organization, Lilley said his volunteers aren’t pushing God in this case.

“We don’t lead with that; that’s not what we do,” he said. “If somebody stops and asks, ‘Hey, could you pray with me’ – and I’ve personally prayed with many families and individuals in lots of encampments around the city – but it’s at their request. We don’t come in and try to proselytize them and say this is who we are, you’ve got to do this. The reason that we’re out there is because they’re homeless and that’s what we’re there to solve first and foremost.”

Starting Tuesday, the Mission will offer mobile case management.

“These are real people with some real challenges and they are difficult challenges,” Lilley said. “That’s why we are going in listening to hear what they’re facing and seeing what we can do to help them.”

Lilley called the effort a “good first step,” but that, long-term, they need solid commitment from leaders to commit to a strategy.

“It always takes more money. I think the bigger part is what’s working yesterday and today is relationships,” he said.

“We’re not getting paid by the city. We’re showing up to say, ‘Hey, this is the right thing to do,’” he added. “And I think if the whole city leans into this, we can at least make a dent in it.”

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