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Homeless campers in Rainier Valley: We don't like the garbage we generate either

Government workers have been closing down a lot of homeless camps in Seattle in recent months.

Some of those campers have moved into places around the Rainier Valley.

And it’s causing some tensions there.

Angie Jenkins lives right off Rainier Avenue, next to Interstate 90.

She says she feels compassion for the people living outside, but the scale of the problem has gotten out of hand in the last couple months.

Jenkins: “Because before, it was subtle. Where you kind of have to look to see, maybe I see a few tents. But now, it’s like a village. And then the trash is just everywhere. So I mean it’s – to be honest, it’s an eyesore.”

On Rainier Avenue, people are camping out in the nooks and crannies around businesses.

Joe Sroka is a manager at Stewart Lumber.

Sometimes, he cleans up after the people who camp out behind his store.

Sroka: “You don’t want people to be injured by broken glass or stuff like that and it just looks bad.”

Just down the street, about two dozen people are camping by the onramp from Rainier to I-90.

They’re aware of the attention their garbage has drawn.

But they say the state has tied their hands.

Jordan: “I’ve offered to pay for my own porta-potties and trash can. And they didn’t even want to agree to that.”

That’s Eric Jordan, who camps there.

A state spokesperson said that bringing in porta-potties and trash cans would send the wrong message – that it’s OK to camp here.

And just in case that’s unclear, the state periodically posts eviction notices around the camp.

Jordan: “There’s one hanging on the tree right now.”

KUOW: “What’s it say?”

Jordan: “I don’t know, I never read them.”

Jordan says after the state clears the camp, people move right back.

Lisa Hooper is his partner. They met in the jungle a year and a half ago. She joined him in his tent here off Rainier. She’s been trying to turn his temporary camp into a comfortable home for both of them.

Hooper: “We stay here – let’s make improvements… let’s make things easier for us to live here. Even… if not porta-potties, I’ve even found where the Peace Corps has online, their compostable toilet plans.”

They’re thinking of ways to put in a bath, so they can stay clean. But the uncertainty about when they’ll be cleared out – it adds to the chaos. It’s getting harder to keep the camp clean.

Hooper: “It was a lot easier when there weren’t as many people here.”

The city and state are trying to hammer out clearer plans for when they will clear out camps – and what kinds of help they’ll offer.

In the Rainier Valley, I’m Joshua McNichols, KUOW News.

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