Longtime homeless camp along Green River becomes focus of proposed pilot program

Jun 29, 2022, 8:21 PM

In the roughly seven years since the homeless emergency was declared in Seattle and King County, millions of dollars have been thrown at the problem.

The various administrations and councilmembers have all left their mark. One thing they all share – some responsibility for the homeless crisis only getting worse despite those millions of taxpayer dollars being spent.

Now we have the fairly new Regional Homelessness Authority handling the majority of the homeless response and is responsible for spending the bulk of what Seattle budgets for the issue.

The RHA recently suggested it would need a 75% increase in its second-year budget compared to its initial year to properly address the issue, though the organization admitted it was not likely to get that.

Report: Chronic homelessness reaches crisis levels in King County

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn says before that kind of money is handed over, let’s see some results and be sure what we’re doing is working.

Dunn believes there is a disconnect between clearing homeless campers and getting them into housing and other services they need, and until that’s addressed, he says nothing will be resolved.

That’s what’s driving his latest proposal at the council to create a pilot program that starts with a task force specifically focused on how to get the dozens to hundreds living tucked behind the greenery on a steep hillside across from the Green River in between Kent and Auburn connected with housing and services and out of the woods.

Dunn believes the problem thus far has been the lack of coordination among the agencies that work to address homelessness.

“There’s a patchwork, you have no one talking to each other, you have an enormous amount of money spent on the problem. And yet, we’re not transitioning that into successes. In terms of our numbers on the street, the only real metric that matters is how many homeless folks are living out on our streets or in our woods in King County. And it’s not about how many people are in a shelter or how many meals were served, right? That’s a reflection of other issues. The question is how many folks are living out on the streets, and this is Exhibit A from what is a series of failed policies on homelessness, not just in Seattle, but in King County,” said Dunn as he led reporters up the steep hill sprinkled with dozens of encampments he hopes his legislation can clean up.

And he says it’s not just about “sweeping” people out because neighbors complain. Dunn and King County Sheriff’s Deputies, who regularly work the hillside and helped lead media through it on Tuesday, agree – allowing humans to live like this is deplorable, unacceptable, and cannot be allowed to continue.

We met one woman, Deborah, who was living in her van across from the hillside and has been homeless for only a few months, not because of any addiction or mental health issues, but because when the eviction moratorium was lifted, her rent from $900 a month to $1,800 and that simply was not doable.

She never in her life expected to be homeless. At first, she went to the emergency congregate shelters, but that proved problematic.

Dunn says part of the job of the task force created in his legislation would be to determine how best to use a carrot and stick approach so that once there is sufficient housing and efforts to clear a camp are made there is a plan in place for those who refuse to leave and must be forced out. But he says whatever that looks like will still have to be humane and compassionate.

It’s unclear if he’ll have the votes to get this proposal any movement. A similar proposal last year nearly passed, but under a different makeup at the council. At the very least, this gets the conversation going.

The task force would create the method to clear the camp and ensure campers get to services, and if it works, the idea would be to expand it across the county, according to Dunn.

“I don’t want to be in a shelter because there are other people there. And they shut the light off. And you don’t know when you fall asleep, who will rummage through your things? Honestly. I mean, my stuff got stolen,” explained Deborah.

But living in her van so close to the sprawling and hidden camp presents its own issues.

“There are people that come knocking on your door and they want a blue and I don’t know what a blue is,” she recalled, referencing other campers trying to buy the counterfeit Percocet pills blamed for our increase in overdose deaths.

“And then there are people that knock on your window and they say I’m hungry. And then there are people that knock on the window, you know, two, three o’clock in the morning and they don’t, they’re cold. And so I give him a blanket because I have a free blanket, but I’m inside, so I give them the blanket because they don’t have shelter. I pray every night so I got that going for me,” added Deborah.

Dunn says she is a perfect example of someone falling through the cracks of the uncoordinated system.

Coalition of businesses to put $10 million into addressing Seattle homelessness

“You’ll hear again and again that the shelter options are not ideal, right? The shelter is very transitory. There’s some risk involved in the shelter. So it’s the permanent housing options that are really the more desired options. And that’s what we’re trying to get. But we all hear again and again. And there are outreach challenges and waiting lists, which is what we need to get past. And so you can’t use sweep without a solution as to where folks are going. And I think it’s not unreasonable for the public to start asking the question,” explained Dunn.

Dunn says part of the problem is Seattle and King County Public Health has barred workers from going into the camps due to COVID. His legislation asked the department to re-think that now that much has changed in the pandemic and most of us are fully vaccinated and boosted.

“The other layer, of course, is the outreach. There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of the outreach that can be done, we talked about these navigation teams to come out and connect these folks and resources not working as well as it could. So that’s another big one, then just the availability of units, as you heard from Deborah down there that she’s on the waiting list for a unit, for permanent supportive housing,” explained Dunn.

Local News

seattle seahawks...
Frank Sumrall

Russell Wilson booed during Sue Bird tribute video, tension-filled reunion on the horizon

His segment in the tribute video was met with a shower of boos at Climate Pledge Arena earlier this week.
20 hours ago
(KIRO 7)...
Nicole Jennings

Residents celebrate West Seattle Bridge reopening, but still much to do

There has been a lot of criticism over the two-and-a-half years the bridge has been closed, mainly over how long it has taken.
2 days ago
(KIRO 7)...
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

KIRO Newsradio Headlines: Lightning storms ignite 13 new wildfires in Eastern Washington

The KIRO Newsradio newsdesk brings you its top stories on the afternoon of Aug. 12.
2 days ago
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letiti...
Associated Press

FBI seized top secret documents in Trump estate search

“Not only will I not oppose the release of documents," Trump said. "I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”
2 days ago
whatcom ferry chief...
Micki Gamez

Whatcom County’s Lummi Island is getting a new ferry

The Department of Transportation awarded a $25 million grant to replace the 60-year-old Whatcom Chief ferry with a new and improved electric-hybrid ferry.
2 days ago
Photo from KIRO 7...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Bonney Lake Sumner Little League team advances to World Series on controversial play

In extra innings, the Bonney Lake Sumner Little League team advanced to the Little League World Series on Thursday, by a score of 3-2.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
Longtime homeless camp along Green River becomes focus of proposed pilot program