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Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission president sets the record straight on the ‘Jungle’

This story was originally published May 26, 2016.

Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council seem to have trouble coming to a consensus with the findings on the latest “Jungle” outreach efforts from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

While Mayor Murray is giving incorrect data on the number of residents in the greenbelt along I-5 known as the Jungle, the council is currently considering a resolution that would kill the mayor’s deadline for homeless residents to move out.

Joining KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz on Wednesday Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission president Jeff Lilley had a lot to say to the mayor and council.

Related: Rantz hangs up during interview with homeless advocates

When Murray made a speech about the efforts in the Jungle on Wednesday morning, he said that there were about 60 people living there. Lilley said that’s not accurate and after speaking with the mayor, they were able to clarify the number.

“It’s much closer to 300,” Lilley said. “We all heard the mayor say that and when we asked him to clarify … he misstated it in the sense that they had gone through in one of their assessments and counted approximately 65 structures that people were living in. And he gave that number as a total, but the more correct total was closer to 300.”

People living in the Jungle have been given a sort of deadline to exit the area before officials come through to clean it up. The Seattle City Council, however, is also considering a resolution that states the city will not sweep the Jungle. Though Lilley said that after speaking Wednesday at a council briefing, he feels the council understands that the effort currently happening with the city and the mission is making progress.

Lilley said that the mission has space for the people in the Jungle. It’s just a matter of making contact, and people willing to come indoors.

“We are looking at 415 beds available for 300 people, of which four have taken that option,” he said.

Lilley argued that he is not in support of spending $5 million to fence off the area — he’d rather spend that money more directly to help those experiencing homelessness. He does feel it should be fenced off eventually, but that is something for down the road. For now, he wants to get in touch with the people living there.

“I do agree with some of the homeless rights activists when they say, ‘You can’t just phase them out, you got to have a better solution,'” Lilley explained. “You can’t say, ‘You can’t be here’ if you don’t have a good place to go.”

“That’s what’s good about this plan,” he said. “It’s sitting with individuals and talking about options and where you can be. Fencing it off and saying you can’t come up here needs to be done. But it needs to be done after a humanitarian outreach.”

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