SEATTLE — The loud traffic under the West Seattle Bridge drowned out the noise of desperation.
On Tuesday, the city of Seattle started sweeping the area along South Spokane Street and Marginal Way, telling more than 40 homeless people they can no longer camp out there.
The sweep follows a recent RV fire under the bridge. The city says the encampment is not safe for the public and Tuesday’s sweep is one of many the city has conducted.
Cindy Pierce joined the Neighborhood Safety Alliance because of Seattle’s homeless problem. She is a citizen invested in the crisis and she says she’s witnessed about a dozen homeless sweeps all over the city. During the sweeps she takes the time to talk to the homeless and her anger grows over the city’s handling of the problem.
“What in the hell is the end game, what are you trying to achieve?” Pierce asked.
Pierce said the city shouldn’t let encampments grow in the first place, much less under bridges that could be damaged by fire.
“Think about the consequences and don’t say it won’t happen here,” Pierce said, alluding to a fire under a bridge that collapsed part of Interstate 85 in Atlanta recently.
Pierce said it’s heartbreaking to see the desperate situation and she sympathizes with the homeless. But she said the city needs to take a harder approach and enforce stricter laws that would prevent people from camping out.
The city is aware of the dangers -- that’s why they are sweeping and fencing off several blocks under the West Seattle Bridge. The work should be done by the end of the week.
“We are doing the best we can, expanding other options that are safer than these kind of camps,” said Julie Moore with the city's Department of Finance & Administrative Services.
But the challenge -- many offered housing don’t want the city’s shelters.
“I’m a grown man, I don’t need someone to tell me what time I need to be home,” one homeless man said.
The 53-year-old homeless man said the shelters’ rules are too restrictive. He said he’s been homeless for four years after moving to Seattle from California.
He said he left California after a devastating crash that killed his entire family.
“I had a head-on collision with a drunk driver; I survived the accident, my family did not, my wife of 25 years and my twin boys were 15 years old,” said the man.
He said the painful loss led to a drug and alcohol addiction. The only sense of family he has is the homeless community under the West Seattle Bridge, he added.
“We will find a spot we can start all over again,” said the man.
As he finds another street to set up his camp, people like Pierce wonder if the cycle will ever end.
“It’s getting worse, it’s not getting better,” Pierce said.
The city said all the unclaimed items left behind will be taken to a landfill. The RVs that cannot be driven off will be towed away to an impound lot.