The Washington State Department of Transportation has $1 million to spend on the Jungle, a homeless encampment in South Seattle where roughly 400 people live. The state Legislature approved the earmark late last week.
Travis Phelps, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, says one option is a fence to keep people out. The state oversees the area beneath the highway.
“A lot of the fences that we build near the highway system are easily cut and compromised," Phelps said. “That’s one of the design challenges that we’re looking at – how do we make sure we secure the area and spend taxpayer dollars wisely?”
The rest of the money would be used to flush out camps and improve the roads through the area.
Phelps says the work will take planning and sensitivity. He emphasized several times the work will be coordinated with Seattle and King County.
But WSDOT isn’t going to spend any of that money on homeless outreach. It will rely on Seattle and King County to do that work – and to pay for it.
Phelps indicated keeping people out of the right-of-way is a top priority. State officials say they haven't made a final decision on whether a fence will be used, but declined to specify alternative ways to secure the area.
One service the state might pay for is some kind of facility to store the belongings of homeless people in camps that have been swept. Phelps said the state would work to reunite homeless people with their personal belongings. With hundreds of people camping in the jungle, some of whom have built up permanent structures including working kitchens, that could prove a significant undertaking.