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Seattle's largest homeless encampment

Seattle's largest homeless encampment is growing as a lack of shelter space prevents cleanup

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There's a sprawling homeless camp near the Interstate 90 and Interstate 5 interchange in Seattle, Washington, which some are calling the 'Jungle 2.0.'

The area is just above and east of where the infamous Jungle homeless camp lingered for decades underneath I-5, but 'Jungle 2.0,' which is home to nearly 50 campers, won’t be cleared out anytime soon. The city of Seattle said there are several reasons, but the underlying factor is: there’s not enough affordable or permanent supportive housing for those now waiting in shelters. It’s a clog in the affordable housing pipeline. With very little affordable housing available downstream, the shelters are running full so there are no shelter beds to offer the campers of 'Jungle 2.0.'

“We’ve got almost all the campers from I-90 and 'The Field' because they have permanently closed down,” said Brandie Osborn, who has lived at 'Jungle 2.0' for four months. “There’s no-where else to go." Osborn has lived at various camps near the interchange for three years and has been swept out by the city every time. But, she may be able to stay put because of a rule in the city’s homeless clean-up protocols. “If we don't have shelter beds for them, we can't do those cleanings, it’s part of our rules,” said Sgt. Eric Zerr, who heads up the city’s Navigation Team.

Zerr and his officers are empowered to refer people they encounter to city-sanctioned encampments or shelters such as the Navigation Center. But, of the nine places Zerr and his team can make referrals, all are running at capacity.

“Now that those are taken, we can’t do those large encampments,” said Zerr. Since the Navigation Center opened in July, 117 people have passed through the 75-bed, low-barrier shelter but only six have been placed into housing which is an example of the affordable housing bottleneck.

Daniel Malone, the Executive Director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which operates the Navigation Center, said there’s not enough permanent supportive housing for people with substance abuse and mental health issues. Many who live in the city’s 400 unsanctioned homeless camps fall into that category. Zerr said many living on the street don’t meet the restrictions placed on shelter residents, except for the Navigation Center, which will accept almost anyone with any issue but, the Center has been running full for the last several weeks.

During a State of the Homeless Briefing at the Seattle City Library on Tuesday, city department heads and leaders of agencies charged with providing housing for the homeless pointed to the lack of affordable housing as the bottleneck.

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“We can have the most perfect ideal client and they do everything that their case manager asked them to do and there's still no where for them to go,” said Janet Pope, Executive Director of Compass Housing Alliance, which operates a new 75-person shelter in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Seattle.

For the time being, 'Jungle 2.0 'will remain perched on the hillside overlooking the interchange because Zerr and his team can’t clean up the camp until there’s a bed for everyone to take, even if they refuse.

“They are always asking, ‘hey are you guys going to be cleaning us?’ and we just say we don't have any plans for that,” said Zerr.

Affiliate KOMO contributed to this report.

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