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Problem with growing Tacoma homeless camp goes beyond trash

(File, MyNorthwest)

The City of Tacoma has its hands full with an unauthorized homeless camp situated under an overpass in downtown that’s being called “The Jungle.” And the similarities between the Tacoma homeless camp and the infamous “Jungle” in Seattle go beyond the name.

Related: Seattle hiring to clean up after the homeless

A story in The News Tribune details the growing homeless encampment near the south end of the I-705 overpass. The Tribune reports there are more than 100 residents living there, and the city and state haven’t come to a permanent solution.

Sound familiar?

It was a deadly shooting in January of last year that drew people’s attention to Seattle’s Jungle locally and nationally. The conditions inside the camp and other unearthed problems held the public’s attention.

Thousands of pounds of trash was found scattered along the land under and along I-5 at the base of Beacon Hill. People were found living among their own waste and human sex trafficking was found to be a problem in the area.

Advocates fought back at the idea of sweeping the area and pushing people out, despite the problems laid out by the city and state.

But protests weren’t necessarily what held officials back from making a move on the problem area. Before Seattle eventual cleared its “Jungle,” the city’s government debated appropriate steps. The city council, for example, kept the Jungle from being fully cleared so that proper outreach could happen.

There was also a bit of contention between the City of Seattle and the state, which owns some of the land underneath I-5 that was enveloped by Jungle residents. A plan proposed by the state Legislature and Washington State Department of Transportation would have added fencing around the area to keep people out. The estimated cost was $1 million. A city councilmember called the idea “absolutely insane.”

Since the 2016 shooting, the city and state have made progress. Hundreds of people were reportedly cleared from the Jungle and the state has made efforts to clean up the area and make it more accessible for workers.

Now the City of Tacoma is dealing with similar issues. The Tribune reports the land beneath I-705, which is difficult to see from the roadway, is owned by the state. Despite having met “several times with city officials” to come to a solution, “No agreement on a permanent fix has coalesced,” the Tribune reports.

In the meantime, garbage is piling up, requiring the city to clean it. The city recently picked up an estimated 6,000 pounds of trash, according to the Tribune.

And simply putting a fence around the area would be somewhat useless, as there are many entry points that could be used to skirt it. WSDOT spokesperson Claudia Bingham Baker told the Tribune there is no “effective barrier” to keep people out.

On the plus side, there is a “tentative plan” to redevelop the area for the public. However, the Tribune reports negotiations are held up and “rudimentary steps” have been taken to keep the visibility to the public down.

If Tacoma, which is also dealing with a shortage of shelter beds, goes the same route as Seattle, it can expect its Jungle residents to simply relocate.

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