SEATTLE — The rain pours off the Emerson Street Bridge. It creates puddles big and small around large piles of belongings. They’re piled high in plastic bags and some are covered with tarps. Moving day is always difficult, even more so when you’re all packed up but have no place to go.
That’s the situation in Seattle, as crews cleaned up a second homeless camp in just two weeks.
“It’s pretty tough right now,” says Kirk Humbert. “Everything got wet, everything got uprooted. They don’t know where they’re going to go.”
Humbert used to live here and is back to help friends move.
"I do temp labor and I work over in the shipyards. I'm still kind
of homeless. I'm not living in a house or anything, I can't afford rent or nothing like that. But, at least I got a truck and camper to live in."
Humbert is one of the lucky ones, only spending about 7 months living on the streets after he broke his collarbone at work and couldn't work and then couldn't pay his bills.
"Everybody's got a story out here," he says.
Humbert also says many of his friends from the Emerson Bridge homeless camp are scared to go to shelters downtown and just need help.
"A lot of them need mental health services, they need clean water and showers, toilets, laundry, and stuff like that."
His friends, who both didn't want to appear on camera, also shared with Q13 News parts of their story. His female friend is hiding out from an abusive ex-boyfriend. The other says he's been living on the streets for nearly a year now, says his mom is coming down from Marysville to hopefully help him out.
Problems like trash, vermin like rats, and sometimes crime tend to follow these camps that number about 400 around the city.
Activists from the Neighborhood Action Coalition say just moving people around doesn't help.
"It's displacement, it's eviction, it's violence" says Kaya Axelsson, with the coalition. She points to the several portable toilets the city brought on-site for the city workers doing the Tuesday cleanup under the Nickerson and Emerson bridges that weren't here while this homeless camp swelled in population following sweeps of homeless camps in other parts of the city.
"If you don't provide services for people, but you kick them out of where they're staying, you're just causing an inhumane situation to become worse."
The city has said what's become inhumane is the dire living situations in these larger camps. Last week, city reports showed roughly 600 tons of garbage and dirty soil was removed from the homeless camp called "The Field" near Royal Brougham Way and Airport Way in the Sodo district. (For more on that cleanup, read more here: http://q13fox.com/2017/03/08/whats-next-for-the-field-homeless-encampment/)
And while the numbers on the cleanup under the Emerson and Nickerson bridges wont be available until later in the week. What seems apparent -- this problem isn't going away anytime soon.
"Just the sheer amount of resources that are being poured into moving people around, chasing people from place to place is pretty staggering," says Olivia Mansker-Stoker, also with the Neighborhood Action Coalition. The UW student was one of six that volunteered to come down to try to assist people moving their things.
But, like Q13 News, she was denied entry into the cleanup area without a city of Seattle escort.
Neighbors nearby say they've watched this camp under the Emerson and Nickerson Street bridges in Seattle's Interbay Neighborhood grow substantially since June 2016 when the city cleared out "The Jungle" homeless camp that once stretched along the forested western slope of Beacon Hill right along Interstate 5.
The city of Seattle and King County made a joint declaration of a "state of emergency" in November 2015. Mayor Ed Murray outlined the declaration back then with a $5.3 million package to respond to the growing demand for services. The county proposed an additional $2 million.
The winter "One Night" count that year (2015) found 3,772 men, women, and children without shelter in King County; it was an increase of 21% in 2014. That number for the "One Night" count in 2016 was up to 4,505 people.
“Emergency declarations are associated with natural disasters, but the persistent and growing phenomenon of homelessness – here and nationwide – is a human-made crisis just as devastating to thousands as a flood or fire,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in 2015. “We call on the federal and state governments to take action, including shouldering more responsibility for affordable housing, mental health treatment, and addiction services.”
Since that declaration, there have been multiple departments, agencies, nonprofits and shelters all working in unison to get people into what's called "safer spaces". But, periodic sweeps of places deemed unlivable are also part of the new norm right along with weekly progress reports from the city on what different city agencies are doing each week to combat Seattle's homeless dilemma. (The latest from March 10th can be found here: http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/Homelessness/3-10-17-report.pdf )
Back under the Emerson Street Bridge, Kirk Humbert asks his friend if there's anything else he can do before he bikes back to where he's car-camping. Then he's off to work. Humbert is worried about his friends and what lies ahead for them.
"They're chasing them from one bridge to the next, [these people] will come back here in a couple weeks, and they'll chase them to another bridge."
The next "bridge" for some of the people displaced in the Tuesday sweep could end up being in the Georgetown area, complete with a dozen small one-room structures near the fire station on South Myrtle Street. The hard-packed gravel lot has room for a lot of tents, too, and could end up being a temporary home for those without other housing options through the spring and summer.
While the city-approved homeless camp is set to open Wednesday, it's anyone's guess where the folks swept out of from under the Emerson and Nickerson street bridges would sleep on a soggy Tuesday night.