Political divide seen among Seattle city leaders over how to move homeless out of ‘Jungle’

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SEATTLE -- There is a political divide on how to move the homeless out of 'The Jungle', the mile-long encampment under I-5 in Seattle.

“If you want to call it a sweep, call it a sweep," Murray said Wednesday. "I call it trying to save lives.”

So far this year, city leaders say there have been 91 emergency calls to the Jungle. The violence and filth in the area is so bad that Murray says a cleanup is urgent.

“Rape and human trafficking -- I mean, folks, if that was going on in a motel, we would go in and close down that motel,” Murray said.

But convincing the people who live in the Jungle, many of them drug addicts, to leave voluntarily is a struggle.

On Wednesday, the Union Gospel Mission, helping with the intensive outreach that started Monday, says the political backing is helping in the difficult process.

In the past two days, the Mission said 28 of 158 people they have approached have agreed to accept help. They say that number is encouraging, compared to the past.

“The motivation is working, absolutely this is helping them look at it (as if) I can’t stay here,” Jeff Lilley of the Mission said.

The people who refuse help from the city will have no choice but to relocate after the outreach.

“It’s going to take a long time, it’s not going to be perfect,” Murray said.

But some City Council members are hoping to put a brake on the mayor’s current pace.

“Simply saying you can’t be here, just relocate them, that’s not going to work,” council member Mike O’Brien said.

O’Brien and fellow council member Sally Bagshaw say they want a slower approach to the cleanup and they're wary of a specific deadline urging people out.

Bagshaw said she wants to use taxpayer dollars to set up Porta Potties as they look for a long-term plan.

When asked if that would send the wrong message, Bagshaw replied, “Depends. Absolutely depends. I’d rather would have them using the Porta Johns."

The mayor said Porta Potties are not the answer to the crisis.

“I don’t think it’s the answer. I think getting people located in services out of there is a better answer,” Murray said.

Murray added that he knows the Jungle cannot be fixed in just weeks. He says not everyone will accept help but he hopes most will before the bulldozers have to go in.

Murray said the city is working on a long-term solution to homelessness and that it’s a problem that requires federal dollars.

But when it comes to the Jungle, he said, conditions are too dangerous not to clear it out as soon as possible.



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