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Jungle 2.0? Seattle neighbors worry about impact of cleanup

A group of International District residents is worried where the people living in the "Jungle" will spread after the encampment has been cleared. (Eric Mandel, MyNorthwest)

A community in Seattle’s International District worries that whatever happens in the notorious area commonly known as the “Jungle,” could have direct ramifications on their neighborhood.

Residents living at Pacific Rim Center say that, for years, they have dealt with illegal activity: People sleeping on the sidewalks, drug dealing, prostitution. David Walker, a volunteer with the Pacific Rim Condominium Association, says there have been assaults and homicides, along with a “variety of things.”

Related: ACLU insists ‘Jungle’ residents not trespassing; watching cleanout effort

However, there’s now concern within the community that if the Jungle — an illegal encampment along and under I-5 at the south end of Seattle — closes, it will become an even bigger problem as its residents could move into the neighboring International District. Walker says some worry that there will be a surge of illegal activity to the area.

“I don’t think there’s been much thought given to that,” he said.

That concern may have been exacerbated after city and state officials announced a deadline for Jungle residents to leave. The original idea was for workers from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to try and help as many people as possible find shelter and services before crews cleared out the Jungle. That work has been successful, according to Jeff Lilley, president of the Mission.

Since the deadline was announced, however, Mayor Ed Murray has stepped back. He noted that, first of all, what was being done in the Jungle should not be called a “sweep.” He clarified that it will take “an extensive amount of time” to clear out the Jungle. The city, he added, does not have the resources to house the hundreds that are believed to be living in the encampment.

And that is what has people living on South Jackson Street near I-5 worried. If the people in the Jungle don’t have a place to go, they will just be pushed to another area. That’s what Walker calls the “toothpaste tube effect.” Walker, who doesn’t take credit for coining the phrase, says areas nearby, such as the Yesler staircase and Jackson viaduct, have been referred to recently as the “Jungle 2.0.”

The association is so concerned about the possibility that members have sent city and state leaders emails.

“With the mayor’s announcement of the pending closure of the Jungle, long-term unaddressed issues regarding illegal encampments, violence, drug-dealing, public intoxication, garbage, and human feces in Little Saigon along the Yesler staircase and under the I-5/Jackson viaduct have taken an immediate turn for the worse,” Walker wrote to city council and city leaders.

And an encampment on Jackson has continued to grow, according to the email.

“Mindful of the drug involvement within this illegal camp … as well as the many loiterers on the Yesler staircase engaged in related illicit activities, our residents feel even more unsafe lately in trying to walk on either sidewalk under this viaduct,” the email continues.

Concerns haven’t been ignored. According to an email to Walker from Vinh Tang, legislative assistant of the Office of Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell, the city is “in the process of finalizing a report by a special task force on Chinatown-International District public safety.”

The task force was tasked with identifying several strategies including if it is feasible to merge the area into the jurisdiction of one Seattle police precinct; increasing police visibility; examining ways to make the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and Multi-Disciplinary Team programs more successful; and to improve 911 service responsiveness and capacity challenges related to “multi-lingual and multicultural reporting.”

A release of the final report is expected in June, according to Tang.

The problem, Walker says, stems from multiple agencies — the City of Seattle and Washington State Department of Transportation — playing the blame game. Though they do get responses to their concerns, little seems to actually be done, Walker says.

“There seems to be a lot of talk, but there’s an absence of will,” he says. “It’s like you’ve got an opportunity for a bunch of different agencies and entities to point fingers at each other.”

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