Shane Harms/ Ballard News-Tribune
Troy Branson with a camper at the the unsanctioned homeless encampment at the Ballard Locks.

Trash pile at ‘Ballard Jungle’ spurs neighbor reaction

A heap of garbage growing at what some are calling the “Ballard Jungle” near the Ballard Locks has spurred one Ballard resident to cry foul.

Terry Pratt called the Mayor’s office twice and the Health Department last week after walking by the pile and seeing at least 20 bags of garbage just off the railroad tracks south off the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks parking area.

“This hill of garbage is not under a Freeway overpass, nor is it in an industrialized area. It is located in the parking lot of Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. A very big tourist attraction, if you didn't know. More importantly it is across the street from my HUD housing. It is a health and safety problem,” Pratt wrote to the City.

1100-1 Garbage3
Pile of trash near the "Ballard Jungle."

“Your homeless friends told me the city had them bag up their garbage and you would haul it away (your only good idea on the homeless so far, my view), so haul it, now. It’s been there for a week, it’s been hot out in case you have been vacationing elsewhere.”

Pratt told the Ballard News-Tribune that he’s frustrated with the City’s management of the unsanctioned homeless encampment at the site. Individuals camp on top of a slope running between the Ballad Locks fence and the railroad tracks, which is an easement.

“The homeless thing is not going away in my lifetime, and I’m under the mindset of live and let live but big mounds of garbage I’m not going to accept at this time, maybe that’s how things evolve in the future, but not now.”

“Its highly likely someone visiting from Montana on vacation is going to park there and see a huge pile of garbage. Would they want to come back?”

Pratt said that the site accrues trash and that the City periodically cleans it and has even removed encampments, however the campers and the trash soon return.

“This site has been cleared probably three times. They are back within a week. It doesn’t seem to be working. If you’re not going to arrest them and remove them then give the homeless people garbage bags and tell them where to put them.”

This is exactly what the campers said the City has done. There are about 15 people camping along the embankment. Last week the BNT dropped by to visit. Climbing up the slope one sees sun-bleached plastic and mud-caked tarps wrapped around weathered tents. Some are torn and reveal layers of worn out bedding inside. One can hear a rustling in some tents: a human agitating, manipulating some material inside their nylon dome. At the top of the slope the BNT met up with a group of campers. Ropes were strung across trees to support a canopy, under which there’s a large pad to sit on in the shade. It’s cool up there and a breeze moves through the trees. Seaview Avenue can barely be seen through the foliage, but the cars can be heard rushing by, people too, walking along the Burke-Gilman Trial. A group of six people were up there relaxing, conversing and escaping from the 85-degree heat.

“It’s got to be 10 degrees cooler up here. I think that’s one of the reasons people like it,” said Troy Bronson, who was there visiting friends. Bronson is a resident of the Ballard Nickelsville encampment

Bronson explained that the way he understood it was that the City comes to the site periodically to pick up the trash.

“As long as we keep it (encampment) clean and don't get complaints we can stay,” said one of the campers.

However, for actual site cleanups a City representative gives a notice to vacate a few days in advance. Then the Department of Corrections or a private contractor comes in and cleans the site, removing all material that’s still there.

Last July the BNT spoke with Katherine Bush Jolly, Director of External Relations with the Seattle Human Services Department, and she confirmed Bronson’s assessment.

“That's what happens and within a day or two people move back in,” said Bronson.

“Department of Corrections (DOC) is the principal provider of clean-up services, private contractors are secondary and on-demand only. We engage private contractors when there is insufficient DOC capacity to meet the demand. Many of the cleanups involve removal of tons of hazardous debris, including needles and human waste,” said Jolly.

Bronson himself said he has cleaned sites in the past while was on work release with the DOC.

Last July the Ballard News-Tribune reported the City hired private contractors to 
“clean-up” and remove materials from 13 unsanctioned encampments in Seattle from last February to May. At least two of those sites were in Ballard, one being the Ballard Locks site. The contracts amounted to $80,869.05 in service payments and19.6 tons of material – which sometimes included possessions, medications, clothing and bedding – were removed. Other things being removed are drugs, alcohol and unsanitary materials including human waste. In addition, the number of sweeps has exploded from 131 in 2013 to more than 520 last year. Also, the 2016 One Night Count finding 2,942 people sleeping outside while the city funds about 1,600 shelter beds.

Blaine, a resident of the Ballard Locks site who has been camping there for at least six months, said that some individuals have been camping there on and off again for years. He reported that the number is growing, too, which means more trash.

Julie Moore, Communications Director For the City of Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services, explained how site clean ups are prioritize at the Ballard Locks site.

“The location in the photo (trash pile) is not an encampment, but a place where people are dumping trash, so the City is treating it as illegal dumping. Seattle Public Utilities’ Illegal Dumping unit has responded to this area a few times the last two months and was notified again yesterday of what appears to be new illegal dumping,” wrote Julie Moore to the Ballard News-Tribune.

Moore explained that it typically takes three days for the trash to be removed, however, more serious sites that pose health risks are handled differently.

“For encampments, cleanups are prioritized based on health and safety issues observed at an unauthorized camping site. Criminal behavior and obstructing a facility (like camping on the sidewalk) are also considered and are a high priority.”

The Ballard News-Tribune asked Moore if the City plans on doing another sweep of the Ballard site.

“Outreach staff has reported that the (locks) encampment is not blocking streets or entries and shows no signs of active drug use or illegal activity, so it has not been prioritized for cleanup. It is in the scheduling system to be cleaned up at some point, but again, it is not considered a priority over other encampments that pose higher health and safety hazards to the occupants or surrounding neighborhood. In general, outreach workers have made regular contact with campers in the Ballard area.”

“I’ve heard of neighbors complaining of late night carousing, but I’ve ever heard anything,” said Pratt.

Incidentally, last Friday the Office of the Mayor announced that the members of the Protocol Task Force met to review the City’s encampment cleanup policies and related practices, most of which are the ones developed under the 2008 Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules (MDAR).

“It is our responsibility to ensure these cleanups are done right and done in a way that serves the needs of people living in these areas, who are enduring extremely difficult circumstances,” said Mayor Murray. “We recognize the protocol under which cleanups are conducted needs both improvement and clarity. Reports from some of the encampments are examples of how we need to ensure better coordination among all those involved, continue to emphasize intensive outreach, and address deficiencies where they arise, and we are committed to doing that. Both significant public safety and public health issues necessitate the City continue responding to unsanctioned encampments, so we need to get it right.”
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw will be overseeing recommendations on improving the City’s response to unsanctioned encampments. Recommendations are to be finalized by the end of September.

Meanwhile, Mayor Murray announced interim improvements to site cleanup practices, which includes the mandatory presence of a representative from the Office for Civil Rights at each cleanup to monitor whether satisfactory outreach has been completed and ensure residents are receiving safe storage of their belongings. Furthermore, notification of the cleanup must be given 72 hours before it’s done, and Outreach representatives must be onsite during the cleanup. In the announcement the Mayor Murray assured that no cleanup would occur without meeting these requirements.

As of Saturday, back at the Locks the pile remained, going on over a week after it was reported, much to Pratt’s dismay.

“It’s been over a week. It’s hot out. I don't expect the city to do anything, but it’s worth a shot. I may be impatient, but if someone would just call and tell me they have it scheduled that would be great. I’ve had zero response,” said Pratt.

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