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Where will the people in Seattle's notorious Jungle go?

caption: A resident of the Jungle, a three-mile stretch under Interstate 5 where about 400 people live.
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A resident of the Jungle, a three-mile stretch under Interstate 5 where about 400 people live.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

It's the beginning of the end for the sprawling homeless camp under Interstate 5 known as the Jungle.

This week, officials from the city of Seattle and Washington state unveiled a plan to clear out and clean up the Jungle.

Most people agree the area is not a good place for people to be living. But the question on everyone's mind is, where are the 400 or so people who live in the Jungle going to go?

Tim Harris, founder of the Real Change street paper and an advocate for the homeless, said they're essentially being displaced.

"I'm anticipating a very low success rate of getting people into services and shelter because they don't have the right people, they don't have the right timeline, they don't have the resources. This is a quick and dirty operation that's going to create misery," Harris said, speaking Wednesday on KUOW's The Record.

Harris said if people are pushed out of the greenbelt under I-5 they'll just scatter to other encampments and more isolated areas; mainly because the shelter system on offer doesn't work for them.

The city of Seattle agrees that the current shelter system is inadequate for people who have pets, partners, addiction and/or mental health issues.

But, city officials say when Union Gospel Mission starts outreach in the Jungle next week, they'll be armed with alternatives. It's not a shelter-or-nothing approach.

Jason Johnson, deputy director of the city's human services department, said UGM will have access to flexible funds that can be used for alternate housing.

"This is funding that can be used for hotel stays, for rent assistance to transition folks into permanent housing, for travel assistance if they need help getting back to their home community, or money that folks can use for treatment or mental health services if that's what they need," Johnson said.

But Johnson admits they don't know if they have the funds to accommodate everyone in the Jungle.

"I think Union Gospel Mission will be better positioned to answer that question once they start outreach," he said.

And that's the other piece of this plan that's become contentious: UGM is the only group the city is partnering with to provide outreach in the Jungle.

Johnson said that's because the group offered their services and they're doing it for free. "They volunteered to provide the outreach services, access to their shelter, access to their treatment programs at no public cost," he said.

But Tim Harris said UGM is the wrong choice. He said they don't have the relationships or experience in the Jungle that other groups do. "They're not the organization that knows those folks best."

Harris said the Downtown Emergency Services Center and the REACH program would be better choices for this work. But the city said UGM has some established relationships and feel they can do this work well.

Whether people accept shelter or not, eventually all the residents of the Jungle will have to leave. The city has not given a specific deadline yet, but it's expected to be within weeks.

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