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Seattle preparing for intensive outreach at illegal homeless camp

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SEATTLE – Come Monday, dozens of people living in an unsanctioned homeless camp in south Seattle will be warned it’s time to move.

The green belt along the Interstate 90 Rainier Avenue on and off ramps, running north to Dearborn Avenue, will be in the crosshairs of the Seattle Police Department’s Navigation Team.

On Thursday, police raided one tent in the camp and found what was described as a drug storefront where weapons were also for sale.

Police said reports of violence and gunfire have been escalating in and around the unsanctioned homeless camp.

Since the beginning of 2017 crews have already cleared nearly 50 homeless camps across the city.

The city of Seattle said the approach for camp cleanup on Monday be different because residents will be provided two weeks’ notice before cleanup crews move in.

Camp resident Charles Knight said he has lived in the camp months but before that he had been swept from one camp to the next.

“I lost so much stuff at “The Field,” he said.

On May 1, the city will begin what its calling an intensive outreach campaign in the camp. So far police aren’t certain exactly how many live here.

“Kind of getting a headcount and getting a feeling for what this community is and what they’re looking for,” said police Sgt. Eric Zerr.

Zerr heads the Seattle Police Navigation Team and he said giving the homeless community a two-week notice of eviction, instead of in some cases three days, could mean more people accept offers for shelter.

While the cleanup has been planned for months, on Thursday a SWAT group served a search warrant at one tent where officers allegedly found an elaborate drug market and recovered a cache of firearms and other weapons.

“You can see on the window, this is where we’ve moved graffiti several months ago and then this was here yesterday morning,” said Austin Brandenburg who works nearby the homeless camp.

Brandenburg said he feels unsafe around the camp, pointing to discarded drug needles and graffiti on his boss’ vehicles.

“There’s drug dealers everywhere,” he said. “I just don’t want to make eye contact with anyone because it’s not a safe situation.”

The city said the area has seen camps pop up after sweeps in the past.

The outreach begins May 1, the closure and cleanup begins May 16.

The city said because the area has seen homeless camps pop up after sweeps in the past, anyone caught setting up camp after the closure will not be given notice when crews move in.