Infant found at Seattle encampment in protective custody

SEATTLE — A 5-month-old infant found at an unsanctioned homeless encampment is in protective custody as police investigate child neglect.

Seattle Police said Thursday that the child was removed in late May from an unsanctioned homeless encampment near Interstate 90 and Rainier Avenue South, where people were reportedly using methamphetamine. They said a concerned resident living inside the tent encampment called their attention to the infant.

Police told Q13 News that being homeless with children is not a crime and removing homeless children from parents is fairly rare.

But it’s not rare to have homeless children. A 2018 King County homeless count found 782 families with children experiencing homelessness.

"They are out there," said Star Lalario, who is trying to reach those families and bring attention to the issue of kids on the street.

"It’s not illegal to be homeless and a lot of these parents won’t reach out for help because they are fearful CPS will come in and take them, so we don’t see them often," she explained. "They’re hidden and that’s something we have to figure out how to overcome."

Lalario started Babies of Homelessness to respond to the most vulnerable population, delivering essentials like diapers, formula and clothing -- no questions asked.

"Whether we agree with what mom and dad are doing or not that put them in this situation with a child in a potentially unsafe is not our place to judge," Lalario said. "We will always and continue to provide what is necessary for these children whenever is needed."

And what’s needed in Seattle is more shelter. On Friday, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed legislation to increase shelter capacity by 25 percent in the next three months. The mayor's office said the currently available shelters are 93 percent full.

"We will be able to deliver 500 or more new shelter spaces for the people in the city of Seattle," Durkan announced before signing the new law.

When Q13 News asked her about this infant’s case and the hundreds of other families experiencing homelessness, she recognized more needs to be done.

"They did exactly what they were supposed to do here, is make sure they care for this child, make sure they have the interests of the child in mind," Durkan said. "But we’re going to be working with the hospitals here to make sure we can come up with some system so no one ever is discharged into homelessness."

Along with groups like Babies of Homelessness reaching out to these families, the city's Navigation Team also makes regular contact. The city said the team had two prior contacts with the mother of this infant in the past year: Once in June 2017 and another time in February 2018 when she was in a shelter with her baby.