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Case worker says better screening of homeless population is needed

Christopher Teel, a homeless man, has been charged with raping a woman in the restroom of an auto dealership. This photo is from his first appearance in court earlier in May.

SEATTLE — The row of tiny homes nestled next to condos and businesses in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood is one of six city-sanctioned homeless camps and the last place rape suspect Christopher Teel called home.

The Nickelsville camp moved from Ballard to Wallingford earlier this year.

In a press release, the Nickelsville encampment said people there were shocked that Teel could be responsible for violently raping a woman inside a Ballard car dealership’s bathroom on Monday.

Founder Scott Morrow also said in the statement that they were not aware that Teel had an outstanding arrest warrant from March 2017 when he was there.

Morrow says his encampment never checks for bench warrants because it’s not required.

Although Morrow didn’t respond to our request for an interview on Friday, a case worker at Camp Second Chance did.

At Camp Second Chance, most of residents also sleep in tiny homes or tents. And residents are required to stay sober.

Case worker Richard Horne says the rape crime is horrific.

“I am not surprised by that, as horrible as it is, I am not surprised,” Horne said.

Horne says that’s because we are in a mental health crisis.

He says many of the city-sanctioned encampments, as well as the 400 unauthorized tent communities, are dealing with a majority of people struggling from mental illness.

“It’s 90 % mental illness, when you have people with systemic mental health issues who are mixing those with not only the medications they are supposed to be taking but with street drugs,” Horne said.

As a case manager, he understands the complexities of the system.

He says they need to help everyone no matter their criminal history but he also wants a stronger screening process so he knows how to tailor the care he gives the homeless.

“That check and balance system is not in place; one of the reasons that’s not in place is because the population we serve, they have very strong feelings. Sometimes I can’t even get them to give me a Social Security number,” Horne said.

Horne says encampments check the sex offender registry but he is concerned to learn that there are thousands of bench warrants out there at any given time and that encampments don’t usually screen for them.

“I think it should absolutely change, that’s where it goes back to accountability if you want to participate in our program you have to have a background check and an ID,” Horne said.

Q13 News checked in with several city departments to find out that there is not one level of screening required by the city when it comes to encampments. But the Department of Human Services says some shelters and providers elect to a range of background and warrant checks.