WSDOT continues work to remove camps from state right-of-ways

Homeless camps that sit near state roads and right-of-ways have been the targets of cleanups after millions of dollars in funding came in from the Legislature this year.

One of the areas recently cleared out was the large encampment off of South Dearborn in Seattle.

State leaders say more camps will be cleared along the highways in the months to come. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the goal is to get people into ‘rapid housing,’ like hotel rooms and tiny home villages. He'll be looking for more funding in 2023 to continue those efforts.

"In the past several months, we’ve seen quite a number of these encampments removed from our right-of-ways," said Inslee.

"We have resolved four long-standing encampments, encampments that some of which, when I said, ‘Okay, we are going to work on Dearborn,' for example, was told, 'Good luck. That’s been there forever. It will be there forever,’" said Marc Dones, CEO of King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). "Our answer as a team to that, very straight forwardly, was 'No.'"

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) began removal of the camp underneath I-5 and the I-90 junction near S Dearborn in Seattle in late August.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: WSDOT begins removal of large encampment underneath I-5, I-90 junction in Seattle

"Because of that ‘No’, everybody who we engaged with at Dearborn—with the exception of a single person—is inside today," said Dones.

"Those people who were there are now in much more secure housing," said Governor Jay Inslee.

That housing includes rooms at the Civic Hotel in Seattle. Lisa Daugaard, the Co-Executive Director of the Public Defender Association, said there are around 150 rooms available with about half split between the city and the state.

"Many of the people who are here in the Civic, and the three other locations where we provide intensive case management, came from state right-of-way locations," said Daugaard.

There are a lot of encampments to tackle. A WSDOT map released in November 2021 shows there were hundreds of sites located statewide. The largest numbers were reported in King County at 871 sites, followed by Snohomish County at 251 sites, and Pierce County at 175. The Communications Director at WSDOT said that the team is still working to finalize the 2022 version of the report for this month. 

During the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers have approved what the governor's office calls historic, new investments to expand supportive services.

"We will be back with the legislature again, increasing our commitment," said Governor Inslee. "We are saving lives, as well as removing squalor along our highways."

As for camps returning to state property that have been previously removed, Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said crews will be following up.

"We have over 250 square miles of right-of-way in the state of Washington, so we are not on every inch of it every day of the week. But, our maintenance crews here in the northwest region, which is the Seattle-King County area, are making regular checks as my colleague, Chief Batiste's patrols, are making regular checks, and when we see something starting, we get in and stop it," said Millar. 

The governor said they will be looking to increase the commitment to long-term housing and rapid housing in the future.

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"Fundamentally, we need more housing in the state of Washington," said Governor Inslee. "We are 76,000 units of housing short because we’ve had hundreds of thousands of people moving to the state of Washington."

As for how much funding might be requested for those efforts in 2023, Governor Inslee said they are still working on the budget proposal.

"I can’t guarantee any dollar figure because I have not written our budget yet, so we are still putting our budget together," he said. "I think this has been a great investment and I think we should continue to do it."