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00000181-fa79-da89-a38d-fb7f2ae90001March 2015 marks the anniversary of a bold promise: King County's 10-year plan to end homelessness. The Committee To End Homelessness, which created the plan, has been working to revise its strategy now that the 10-year plan is ending and local homelessness is worse than ever.Talk of ending homelessness is being replaced with less-lofty aspirations: making homelessness rare and brief when it does occur.This series is a collaboration with InvestigateWest and is edited by KUOW's Carol Smith. Join the conversation on Twitter using #NoEndInSight.

How to move 400 people out of Seattle's homeless Jungle (including me)

Kara Bernstine, who is homeless, said she knows the Jungle homeless encampment isn't perfectly safe, but it felt safer than other places in the city. Click on this photo to see more images of the Jungle.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Kara Bernstine, who is homeless, said the Jungle homeless encampment felt safer than other places in the city. The Jungle, a greenbelt under Interstate 5, will be completely cleared out this week.

The Jungle has been Seattle’s largest and most persistent homeless camp. Its origins can be traced back to the 1930s.

Earlier this year, about 400 people were living in tents under the three mile stretch of Interstate 5.

Reporters Joshua McNichols and Kate Walters present this one-hour special based on months of coverage about the people inside the Jungle and the systems that created it.

Some called it home, others said it was a magnet for criminals and drug dealers.

The Seattle Fire Department declared it so unsafe that its officers wouldn’t enter without a police escort.

Then, in January, a shooting in the Jungle left two people dead and three wounded. Suddenly, the Jungle was in the spotlight.

Now, nine months after Mayor Ed Murray declared he would shut it down, work crews have swept the Jungle clear of residents. 

The move followed months of intensive outreach to the homeless people living there. Some got help. Others moved on to other encampments spread around the city.

In that time, we’ve learned a lot about the Jungle – what created it, what caused it to persist, and what kinds of solutions it suggests.

Connect with people who have experienced homelessness

Life in the Jungle

Audio starts at 0:01:12

People wind up in the Jungle for all kinds of reasons. Some say shelters don’t work for them because they can’t bring their stuff, their partners or their pets with them.

In the Jungle they feel they have autonomy. Others stay there because it’s close to the methadone clinic where they receive treatment for opioid addiction.  Still others say the Jungle is a kind of community where they feel safer than when they are living on the street.

In this act, we hear some of those voices from the Jungle. 

System failure

Audio starts at 0:12:50

Seattle’s shelter system, for the most part, is overstretched. Beds are hard to come by and sometimes require standing in long lines, if you can get in at all.

Treatment centers also have waiting lists. And the mental health safety net is unable to help all those who need it.

In this act, we follow along as one worker tries to find leftover shelter beds for people late at night. We also hear from service providers about some of the challenges they face. 

Moving forward

Audio starts at 0:30:46

Mayor Ed Murray has declared Seattle’s homeless crisis a state of emergency. But there are some known solutions.

One of those is “housing first” – getting people into housing before they get sober or before their mental health issues are in control. It’s a concept pioneered in Seattle, but that hasn’t yet been widely used.

In this act, we hear from people about some of the ways we can reduce homelessness in the Seattle area. 


Out of the Jungle was edited by Carol Smith with sound design by Whitney Henry-Lester.

Music“Looking On,” by Blacksona (Creative Commons) | “And Then There Was Red,” by Kyle Preston (Creative Commons) | “Home,” by Glasser; “Mellow Harmonics,” by Sounds Like An Earful (Creative Commons) | “Recruitment Gong,” “New England Air” and “New England is Interesting” by BOPD (Creative Commons) | “Lichen” and “Parchment” by Wil Bolton (Courtesy of artist)