first ave bridge encampment
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Seattle Set to Clear Sprawling 1st Avenue Bridge Encampment

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Heaps of garbage, gutted cars, and strewn-about parts cover a large stretch of land along the river at the massive 1st Avenue South Bridge homeless encampment in Seattle. Hopefully, this is the final time the space will look like this.

Crews will start removing all the dangerous debris at the massive encampment starting on Monday. It’s expected to take several days to clear thousands of pounds of garbage and twisted metal from several parcels of land owned by the city and the Washington State Department of Transportation. 

Frustrated neighbors have begged the city and state for years to figure out a solution after multiple shootings, fights, drug overdoses, and at least one homicide. 

Authorities say that criminals have used the encampment as a chop shop and dumping ground for stolen cars. 

And it turned into a revolving door for homeless people. 

Edgar Bucio, who lives in the encampment, said on Monday that he’ll “just watch ‘em destroy our lives man.”

Bucio is frustrated.  But he’s heading into temporary housing and says he’s “grateful that I’m getting out of here.” “It’s just been a long, rough four years,” he tells me.

Currently, there are fewer than ten people left in this sprawling encampment. 

Imra Vanwolvelaere and his wife live in an RV in the encampment.  He says he and his wife have known the camp would be removed for a long time, but he says they’ve rejected housing and would prefer to stay.

“I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do,” Vanwolvelaere tells me. “Even though it’s probably one of the worst neighborhoods in Seattle, it’s what we call home.”

On the weekend, volunteers with faith-based organizations visit the encampment to offer meals and clothing.

Outreach volunteer, Emmanuel Christian, visits to “share the love of Christ” with the people living there, “and give them hope.”

Another volunteer, Kevin McDonald, admits they’re struggling to break through to the homeless, because “it seems to be about a 90% drug problem and a 10% homeless problem.”

Drugs, like fentanyl, are ravaging this community and enslaving to the streets those addicted to the dangerous drugs.   

McDonald tells me that the homeless don’t have the option to return home or live with family and friends, “because the drugs always get in the way.”

In a lone glimmer of hope, I run into a man who goes by Weaver. I interviewed Weaver last year after his RV burned down at the encampment.

“Well, I’m glad they’re finally getting it cleaned up” remarks Weaver.  He says the incident forced him to take the next step in his journey. Now, Weaver is living in an apartment and believes others can do the same.

“It’s about time,” he tells me. “I think this place has had it.”

Massive Clean-up

Third World Country – Footage from June 2022

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.