Monday, May 9, 2011

The Jungle in Seattle

There is an infamous part of Seattle known to residents as "The Jungle", a tract of about 100 acres that mostly borders and runs parallel to the access roads that service Interstate 5 where the highway is elevated through the city.

The area got its nickname because it is a lawless place where literally all the residents are "homeless" men and women.  There are no buildings or homes in the Jungle.  The only shelter there is the highway overpasses and their concrete corners and the dense brush that can conceal almost anything.

The Jungle is beyond dangerous.  Murder, rapes, and assaults there are common.  Dead bodies are found there all the time.  Drug dealing, prostitution, and other criminal activity is part of the daily ritual.  The Jungle is filthy and smells it, filled with used condoms, bags of urine, jars of feces, and rotting filth of every kind imaginable.  One time when they actually cleaned The Jungle in 1994 they netted 120 TONS of debris.

The video above from YouTube captures some of the menace of The Jungle.  The person who shot this film risked their life even taking a camera and a car into this place.

What I haven't told you so far is that The Jungle borders the growing and vibrant Seattle neighborhood of Beacon Hill and residents of this legitimate community are sick of the consequences of living near a place as intimidating and violent as any fantasy you would see in an Eli Roth movie.

The city of Seattle openly tolerates a homeless encampment within its borders, one self-defined by residents as one that only attracts the criminal class.  Think I'm making this up?  Read the transcript of a KBCS-FM radio report on The Jungle which I have reprinted below.

And the even better news is that we now have mini-Jungles sprouting up all along the I-5 corridor through Seattle and its suburbs.  The criminal classes who use these disgusting vacant stretches of land have learned from their time in The Jungle that you can do what you want there no matter how violent and grotesque and virtually no one in the end will care except the honest people who wind up dead, raped, or the victims of robbery there.

Seattle says they are going to clean up The Jungle.  Yeah, right.

Here is another article saying that Seattle is FINALLY going to clean up The Jungle.  This one is dated June 27, 1994.

Here is another article from July 1998 claiming the end of The Jungle.  It has been "bulldozed."

Understand my current skepticism?


Seattle’s Homeless Jungle

In terms of homelessness, there is at least one thing most everyone agrees on. For the more than eight thousand homeless in King County there are not nearly enough shelter beds. Bill Hobson is Executive Director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, an organization that provides services, including shelter for homeless adults. He’s on the front lines of the fight to provide shelter for the homeless.

Actuality 1: (12 secs)
Bill Hobson:The amount of shelter bed availability is still not nearly enough for 2,000 people – men, women, and children who are forced to sleep outside because they can’t access shelter.”

However, very few agree on where the more than two thousand without shelter should go. While the issue is argued, every cold winter night hundreds of homeless are turned away from shelters that have reached capacity. And hundreds of others have already resigned themselves to sleep outside. Instead of wasting their energy searching for an empty cot, they scour alleys, bridges, bushes and greenbelts to find the best protection.

Ambience 1: (40 secs) Begin AMBI #1 & 2 during the middle of previous sentence. Sounds of walking around
in the Jungle over muddy trails and through a loose chain-link fence. Cars can be heard in the distance.

Over two thousand without shelter have to go somewhere, and for nearly 80 years many found that somewhere to be a controversial place called “the Jungle”.

The Jungle is in south Seattle and bordered by I-5 and Beacon Hill. It’s 100 acres of dense ivy, muddy slopes, and hundreds of broad leaf maples at the end of their life cycle. A quick walk through and one will also find that it’s a place filled with invasive freeway noise, rats, garbage, spent condoms, and human waste.

Fade out Ambience 1 during Simon’s intro.

Simon has been homeless for 13 years. He states that despite its deplorable living conditions, the Jungle offers one feature highly valued by the homeless.

Actuality 2: (20 secs)
Simon: “Up there they can do what they want without being interfered with by other people; people in mainstream society. Up there they can practice their freedom in the truest sense. A rugged individualism you’ll find up there.”

The lack of rules and oversight makes the Jungle appealing for the homeless, but this also makes it a target for frequent sweeps by the Beacon Hill community and local government.

Craig Thompson lives in Beacon Hill and just two short blocks from the Jungle. Since 2000 he has been active in finding a way in which the homeless and his community can live harmoniously. He is keenly aware of the tough position communities like Beacon Hill are in because of the county’s lack of appropriate shelter.

Actuality 4: (20 secs)
Craig Thompson: “It’s a dilemma that we’re in right now because on one hand we cannot allow, as a city, to have our woods to be overtaken by homeless encampments that then become criminalized. But on the other hand, we don’t have a place for these folks to go.”

Tent City, a self-governing mobile encampment, is an alternative. Communities tolerate Tent City because the roughly 100 residents must obey a strict Code of Conduct, with rules including no drugs or alcohol, no fighting, no panhandling and no visiting tents of the opposite sex. It has not proven to be a perfect solution however, because, like the Jungle, the reason it appeals one group is the reason why it repels another.

Charles and Matt collect cans during the day and sleep most nights in the Jungle. They tried out Tent City and have a very specific reason why they don’t stay there anymore.

Actuality 6: (9 secs)
Adam: “Why would someone choose to live in the Jungle as opposed to Tent City?
Charles: “What it is is privacy.
Matt: “We want to be left the hell alone!”

For Charles and Matt the lawlessness of the Jungle is a catch-22. While ensuring they won’t have anyone telling them what to do it inevitably attracts dangerous people and situations.

Actuality 7: (22 secs)
Matt: “There’s bozos down there. There’s enemy people down there.
Charles: “You see guns. You see knives down there. People get beat up. I’ve seen a girl out there naked, she was prostituting, and she was about to get beat up. She was screaming for help and I had to go over there and help her. She was running around…
Matt: “You clobbered that guy.”
Charles: “Yeah, geez.”

Given Charles’ and Matt’s depiction of enemies, weapons and violence, one might think it strange that anyone would choose to live in the Jungle. All the homeless people I talked to expressed that they would spend as little time as possible there. Most people without a home, a family or shelter just want to find a place where they can rest.

Actuality 8: (17 secs)
Charles: “You got people down there who just need a place to go and sleep. When I see them they ask all kinds of questions – where can I go, where can I sleep, and stuff like that. It’s not easy down there in the weeds trying to find a place to sleep.”

SOC OUT: (2 secs)
For One World Report, I’m Adam Vaughn.