News Release: City, County and State Team Release Report on Health and Safety of I-5 and East Duwamish Greenbelt Encampments

SEATTLE – Today, the State of Washington, King County and City of Seattle released the results of the health and safety assessment of the East Duwamish/I-5 Greenbelt area commonly known as “the Jungle.” The assessment was launched by the Governor, County Executive and Mayor following the murder of Jeannine Zapata and James Q. Tran in an encampment area under I-5. The report evaluates the health and safety conditions of the encampments as well as the impact the encampments have on the environment and infrastructure. The coordinated assessment was led by Seattle Fire Chief Harold D. Scoggins.

“Thank you to the many homeless advocacy groups and our city, county and state partners who participated in this process. The Governor, County Executive and Mayor have committed to collaborating on next steps,” Scoggins said. “The conditions we encountered create a dangerous environment filled with public safety and public health hazards to our first responders and the surrounding community.”

“Individuals are living in “the Jungle” in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, and my heart goes out to each person who finds him or herself living there,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health-Seattle & King County. “We found conditions in which human and pet waste is dumped on the ground, food is not protected from rodents, hand washing is not possible, and used syringes are littered on the ground. A lack of sanitary facilities creates an environment that is ripe for the spread of disease.”

“WSDOT thanks our partners for the thorough work during the assessment,” said Dave McCormick, Assistant Regional Director for the Washington State Department of Transportation. “We are committed to collaborating with the impacted communities going forward. The safety of drivers, people experiencing homelessness living in this area, and our employees who maintain the system, remains our top priority.”

“With over 200 tents and structures identified in the East Duwamish Greenbelt among unacceptable levels of human and solid waste, the needs assessment shows us that too many of our neighbors are living in conditions that are unfit for human habitation”, said Jason Johnson, Seattle Human Services Deputy Director. “Safety concerns in the area limit access to resources through outreach teams that would otherwise connect individuals who are homeless to permanent housing solutions, substance abuse treatment referrals, employment resources and healthcare services.” 

Key findings:

Human Conditions: the assessment team identified more than 200 tents and/or structures in the assessment area and estimated that many more were uncounted. Some residents reported that they had been residing there for only a couple of weeks while others reported that they had lived there for several years. Most people lived in makeshift tents with no access to running water or toilet facilities.

Health: the encampment areas have large accumulations of human and solid waste and signs of significant rodent activity. These conditions are ideal for the spread of disease according to public health officials.

Safety: the area has an extremely high rate of violent crime and emergency incidents necessitating police, fire, and EMS response. In the past five years, there were more than 70 reported violent incidents, 250 fires and 500 calls for emergency medical service to the assessment area. The “lawless” nature of the “Jungle area” poses a significant risk to residents, visitors and first responders. The assessment team saw numerous signs of fresh fires and criminal activity.

Infrastructure: the conditions under the freeway pose a safety and health risk to WSDOT maintenance personnel preventing regular inspections and repairs of the drainage system and expansion joints along the under-side of the freeway. Combined with the accumulation of incendiary materials such as propane tanks and the frequency of fires maintaining the freeway in working order poses an ongoing challenge.

Environment: much of the human waste and solid debris from the encampment areas is ultimately channeled toward the water runoff system which drains directly into the Duwamish Waterway. Sewage and toxic waste contamination of the Duwamish Waterway and of the groundwater near the freeway is a significant environmental concern.

The assessment team included representatives from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD), Seattle Police Department (SPD), Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Human Services Department (HSD), Public Health – Seattle & King County, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), Seattle Parks Department, Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), LEAD, ALL HOME King County, Washington Department of Corrections (DOC), Washington State Department of Transportation(WSDOT), The REACH Program, Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Washington State Patrol (WSP).

The entire assessment report is available at: http://www.seattle.gov/fire/publications/I5EastDuwamishEncampmentConditionsAssessment.pdf.

Photos can be viewed and downloaded at:

http://seattlecitygis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=ff8f1f20586b46a688cd0e9b1a558a2a.