April 16, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 16

News

Citing safety concerns, city clears campers from underneath Yesler Way

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Several homeless people who had been sleeping under the Yesler overpass on Fourth Avenue. were cleared out by workers for the city of Seattle.

Photo by: Wes Sauer , Contributing Photographer

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City of Seattle officials cleared out an encampment underneath Yesler Way on Fourth Avenue twice in the last month.

As many as 40 people used the covered area for shelter in March and April, but it has been a popular sleeping area for at least a year, said Edwin Obras of the city’s Human Services Department (HSD). Yesler Way passes over Fourth Avenue near Terrace Street, providing cover for the road and sidewalks below.

Workers for the city cleared the encampment — with participation from the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), Parks and Recreation, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and HSD — on March 19 and April 7, in the wake of a reported shooting there.

On Feb. 22, a fight broke out among four people at the encampment, according to SPD. A 50-year-old man was striking another camper with a board when an uninvolved male approached and shot him.

Police are still investigating the incident.

To clear an encampment, city officials post signs warning people to vacate the area within 72 hours. HSDsends outreach workers each night to offer people shelter elsewhere.

City staff also collects personal possessions and stores them. Finally, the DOT washes the area with hoses.

City officials referred nine people to shelter when clearing this encampment, and five of them checked into shelter, according to HSD.

After the city cleared the space, people returned, Obras said.

“It’s an ideal location for people to take shelter from the rain,” Obras said.

It has become more popular, Obras said, possibly because of construction taking place along Seattle’s waterfront.

“It could be folks who had typically been staying near the waterfront,” he said. “More people might be moving closer to the downtown core.”

Construction workers have taken over large sections of space underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct to build the Highway 99 tunnel and replace the seawall.

The mile-long elevated highway provided a roof over the heads of many people.

Homeless people can still be found sleeping there, near pillars and at old trolley stops.

The Yesler encampment was the largest encampment city officials have cleared recently.

Staff also shut down an encampment of 15 people on the 1800 block of Eastlake Avenue. Two people accepted shelter and one accepted drug treatment.

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