`Jungle' For Homeless Will Be Swept Into Extinction -- City Squatters Readied For Move
On a wooded slope off Interstate 5 near the Rainier Brewery, 100 or more homeless people are living in cardboard shacks, small A-frames and two-room shanties that make up Seattle's largest, oldest and most secretive encampment.
A network of concealed paths leads to the hooches, many of them 10 years or older. Some of them are dumps, others are creative and tidy. Joe Doney, for example, dug out a foundation, landscaped with rocks, and crafted a rack made of branches for his pots, pans and Starbucks coffee mug.
It's not much to look at, but it's shelter for a man who can't pay rent and who wonders what he will do after July 18 when the city plans to evacuate the area. It will be the largest sweep of homeless people in Seattle's recent history.
The city says the place, known as The Jungle, represents a threat to public safety and human decency in general.
Doney and other people who live there, lacking the money to live in homes and apartments, say it represents a place to feel safe.
Yesterday, the city hosted a meeting in the International District to inform the squatters about services and shelters they can use when the evacuation occurs. Only two people came.
Most residents of The Jungle are alcoholics, disabled veterans, seasonal workers or are mentally ill. They either did not understand the fliers announcing the meeting or chose to ignore them.
Regardless, the evacuation will occur from the city-owned land. Trucks and bulldozers from the Department of Transportation will be used to clear a road to the area and workers will begin a cleanup expected to take four to six weeks. It will be the largest encampment cleared in Seattle, displacing a record number of people.
"It is a health hazard and a safety hazard both for the people living in the encampments and the neighborhood," said Laura Paskin, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Housing and Human Services.
NO WATER SERVICE
Paskin said the city has received 15 complaints from Beacon Hill neighbors about sanitation and fire concerns. The people in The Jungle have no garbage service, electricity, sewers or running water. Most follow paths from the hillside under the freeway to the industrial area to get water from pumps at businesses there.
Some carry their garbage out, but most bury it or throw it in heaps beyond their dwellings. Fire pits are common, and Paskin said there was a small fire in March that could have been much worse in a dry month like July.
Homeless advocates call the sweep an outrage, saying the city should put Dumpsters and portable toilets on the property instead of driving people out. They argue that Seattle has only 2,200 beds for homeless people, and they are already full.
On Saturday, eight activists went to The Jungle to post fliers about the evacuation. They encountered everything from squalor to near-splendor in the thicket of nettles, blackberries, maple trees and alder.
"I've been a housing activist since 1981, and I've known about it that long," Jim True said of The Jungle. "It's taken that long to build up the trust for this visit."
The Jungle is a private place, known mostly to those who don't want to live in downtown shelters because they are too crowded or unsafe. Visitors are rare.
The group soon came across two encampments spread beneath the trees. The first featured a structure made with wood siding, a corrugated roof with a large stuffed polar bear on it, a wooden door with a Christmas wreath on it and a rusty cheese grater hanging in a tree. The second one had three A-frames with cardboard and tarp roofs. A poster of "Charlie's Angels" was posted on a door.
Both camps shared what appeared to be a cooking pit, and 20 feet away, a privy.
"That shows they are aware of public-health concerns," said John Gould of Operation Homestead.
PATHS IN THE DIRT
No one was home at the encampment and the group walked on, led by Oscar Carcamo. He is a Latino activist who knows many seasonal workers in the area and estimates the number of homeless in The Jungle at about 250. He walked up steps made of hardened mud, traveling slowly. He was hit by a truck in Yakima and lost a leg. He now has an artificial one.
The dirt path wound through nettles and blackberry bushes before reaching an opening and an unexpected sight: a giant U.S. flag strung between trees.
The encampment was sprawled out, with a stick archway at the entrance and a sign saying "Keep Out." Large mounds covered with tarps and old carpet marked the site. It looked like the work of several people, but only one man claimed responsibility.
He was tall and blond, with glasses and a baseball cap. He walked down to the group and listened impassively as they explained their mission.
Then he spoke: "I'm trying to kill a deadly disease. I have permission to be here from the U.S. government. My intentions are to kill cancer. So if the city tries to kick me off the land, it's treason against the human race."
He looked steadily at the group and then left. He probably had been in The Jungle a very long time.
NEWCOMER'S VIEW ISN'T BAD
Doney, by comparison, is a newcomer. The 33-year-old man arrived in May and spent two weeks building his place. It sits on an outcropping, overlooking trees and the freeway. The view, he said, isn't bad.
The sides of his dwelling were wood and decorated with hubcaps and a clock. A fire pit had been carefully arranged.
"I'm pretty neat," he said. Unlike many of the other shacks, there was no garbage scattered about. Doney took pride in that while showing off the inside of his hooch. He coughed politely. There, next to a Bible, dictionary and cartons of orange juice, were three Playboy posters.
"When you're single, you want to wallpaper your room," he said with a laugh. He straightened the blanket on his foam bed, while explaining his past. He is an Air Force veteran who attended college before coming to Seattle to crew on a fishing boat.
Bad timing. The fishing dried up, and he's been doing odd jobs ever since. He doesn't have enough money to pay rent and doesn't know what he'll do when the bulldozers arrive.
"It's basically going to have the same effect as an earthquake," Doney said. "It's going to make about 250 people homeless."
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