WA Rep. fed up as homeless authority refuses to sweep encampments

Feb 16, 2023, 2:49 PM | Updated: 3:58 pm
Ship Canal Bridge encampment...
The encampment underneath Seattle’s Ship Canal Bridge — stretching across both sides of the I-5 express lanes near 42nd Street — has yet to be cleared, despite a sixth reported fire over the last month. (Sam Campbell/KIRO Newsradio)
(Sam Campbell/KIRO Newsradio)

The encampment underneath Seattle’s Ship Canal Bridge — stretching across both sides of the I-5 express lanes near 42nd Street — has yet to be cleared, despite a sixth reported fire over the last month.

The King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) claimed, according to Jason Rantz, that under the agreement the organization has with the state, it cannot remove the homeless within the encampment unless they have permanent housing.

“This has been how many years now?” Rep. Andrew Barkis asked on The Jason Rantz Show. “I mean, this has been an ongoing problem growing in severity over the last several years.”

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Barkis has served as the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee since 2019, which wrote a budget in 2020 for KCRHA to remove encampments throughout the county.

“I wrote a proviso and put it in there after doing some research to find out why isn’t this happening,” Barkis said. “And the response was, ‘We need resources. We need money.’ So we did that. We put in millions of dollars, we even had an extra carveout for money for Seattle specifically and Tacoma. Go do what you’re supposed to do. Well, it hasn’t happened. And they’ve been slow to respond.”

KCRHA’s Five-Year Action Plan, which is out for public comment, has an overall price tag of nearly $12 billion with $1 billion in annual operating costs. Seattle’s entire budget, in comparison, for this year is $7.4 billion.

“The proviso I wrote says, provide services and direct people to alternative housing,” Barkis said. “That means shelter, Jason. That means any type of housing that is possible, and we have that to move the people into.”

The Ship Canal Bridge encampment has been documented as one of the more dangerous encampments in the region, with reported use of fireworks causing fires, exploding propane tanks, and two shootings. John Stanford International School is an elementary school located one block west of the encampment, causing concern among parents, educators, and students.

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“Let’s start at the premise of they’re breaking the law,” Barkis said. “That seems to be the key point that we seem to forget here. They’re trespassing, they’re breaking the law. Let’s start there. And then we can wrap around every type of service under the sun to try to help the people, which we should.

“It is very clear that shelter, congregate shelter, any type of housing is what needs to be done to move the folks out of these encampments,” Barkis continued. “So you start one by one, and you do the job. WSDOT has made contact with 500 some odd camps. They’ve only cleaned up between seven and 10, or 11? In the same timeframe, hundreds more have formed.”

Senate Bill 5332, which was proposed in the Washington State Legislature earlier this week, would ban encampments within 1,000 feet of schools.

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WA Rep. fed up as homeless authority refuses to sweep encampments