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'We need action': Inslee reacts to family's encampment house near I-5 on-ramp in Seattle

KOMO-TV Seattle 1/26/2023 Jeremy Harris, KOMO News Reporter

Drivers who enter I-5 at Seattle's Mercer Street on-ramp pass by a growing homeless encampment that is obscured behind trees and repurposed 'welcome to South Lake Union' banners. 

Inside the camp, Kandice and Mark, who asked to be identified only by their first names, are busy building their home.

“We don’t have a house or a home right now, and this is how we know to survive. 99% of this house is stuff that came out of dumpsters," Mark told KOMO News. 

Mark said it has taken him about a month to build the tiny house, which includes an A-frame roof, a foundation, a window, and a door. The couple said they ended up at the encampment after the the city cleared out their previous camp site on Dexter Street. 

"We found ourselves on the sidewalk with all our stuff just trying to guard it. We figured we'd build this structure here because it's better than just a tent," Mark said. 

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The house is going up in the same encampment where KOMO reported last week about a series of fires, threats with weapons, and damage to the Seattle City and Light power infrastructure.

The property where they are building the house belongs to the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Both agencies told KOMO they are aware of the encampment and coordinating on how to address it.

A WSDOT spokesperson said their teams handle the clean-up and restoration of right-of-way encampments, but they rely on homeless service providers to offer outreach to the people living there before any clean-up can begin. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) acknowledged they are aware of the Mercer Street encampment. 

"The process of outreach is time-intensive and involves building a relationship with people who often have complex needs and then finding the housing and services that can meet those needs. The KCRHA has worked with outreach partners to resolve a number of sites that had established structures, including a large encampment at Dearborn and other sites downtown," said KCRHA spokesperson Anne Martens. 

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Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell addressed the Mercer Street encampment in an interview with KOMO News on Tuesday.

"What we are trying to do through using utility discounts and our housing strategies is meeting people where they are and getting them sheltered in places they don't have to do that. It's unsafe, unlawful and we don't suggest people do that all it's intolerable for our administration," Harrell said.

Gov. Jay Inslee told KOMO News encampments near state highways are unacceptable. 

“None of these should be allowed on our right of way. We need action, this cannot be acceptable as the long term future for the state of Washington," Inslee said. 

He added that he wants the legislature to expand shelter space, mental health resources, and addiction rehabilitation services. 

“The homelessness and encampment situation we have is not acceptable and that’s why we have to take action. That’s why I’m asking the legislature to step up to the plate," Inslee said. 

Mark and Kandice, the couple building the house in the median, said they also don't want to stay where they are for long. 

“We’ve had law enforcement come and tell us not to get comfortable and this isn’t going to last, and I don’t want this to be long term,” Mark said.  

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