Video still by Jonathan Choe, © Discovery Institute
Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives

Evolution of an Encampment

A "bunch of chaos" in Licton SpringsView at YouTube

This surveillance video, obtained exclusively by the Fix Homelessness team, shows a man with an orange bucket going from town house to town house. Neighbors say he’s stealing their water.

In another video, a man is seen urinating in an alleyway near a house. He’s eventually confronted by an irritated neighbor.

All of this disturbing behavior happened in the just the past few days at the corner of Aurora Avenue and North 96th Street in Seattle’s Licton Springs neighborhood.

“Just a whole bunch of chaos,” says neighbor Fikerte Befekadu. She lives in a townhouse nearby and says all these problems are associated with this rapidly growing homeless encampment. 

She also tells us that the sidewalks are packed with tents and the streets are now clogged with vehicles belonging to some of the campers, making it difficult for school buses to get through.

“They bring their extra tents. They bring household items. They even placed a couch,” says Befekadu.  That couch is now set up against Thai Thai Kitchen. The owner says that unless this encampment is cleared real soon, he might have to close up. 

I started tracking this place last month after neighbor complaints about fights, open air drug use, and trash spilling into the streets. Then I only saw a handful of tents. Now there are more than 20.

Michael Russell says he moved in a few weeks ago after the city cleared out another nearby homeless encampment. 

“One gets cleared out, and one that hasn’t been inhabited for a while, they’ll start populating that one again,” says Russell. 

And it’s not only the neighbors in townhouses complaining. Ironically, some of the residents of Clement Place who were once homeless themselves are now worried about this encampment spiraling out of control. 

Seattle-based non-profit DESC runs the building, and a spokesperson confirms some of their staff and tenants are struggling with problems associated with the encampment.  So far, their outreach has helped eight people leave the area for emergency shelter. 

As for the city, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team is now running point on the homelessness response. But no one got back to us about this developing situation. Before an encampment is cleared, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority has primarily responsible for outreach. I asked KCRHA if any services have been offered to the homeless living here, but the agency has not responded. 

And that’s also what’s been frustrating for some of these neighbors (who want to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation from the homeless). Even after dozens of complaints, a neighbor who only wants to be called Michelle says they’re only getting canned emails from the city which acknowledges the problem, but offers no timeline on when the encampment will be cleared.  

“And the city wants to reward them by giving them a home. Where is the skin in the game for them?” asks Michelle. 

Even the homeless living out here recognize the dangers.  Russell, who carries a pocket knife for protection, laments that there are “people out here with guns and stuff, big blades, bats, and all kinds of things,”

He says a vigilante recently came by and dumped pieces of concrete near his tent to prevent more campers from moving in. He also says drug dealers are constantly trying to do business at the encampment. 

This woman who goes by “Secret,” says she’s trying her best to make this place feel like home. And her friend Michael says they need some more of the basics. “There’s no porta potty so where they gonna use the bathroom at?” he asks. 

Another homeowner who goes by “Steve” argues that providing bathrooms is a bad idea, since it could enable the homeless to stay even longer: “Look I don’t want anything bad to happen to these people, but they need another place to stay.” 

Until the city acts, some neighbors are taking precautionary measures — adding more surveillance cameras, locking up their spigots, and putting covers on electrical outlets. 

Steve offers a bleak assessment: “It honestly feels like the city doesn’t care about us.”

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.