City attempts to clear its homeless 'jungle'

Tacoma wants to clear out a homeless encampment known as "the jungle" under the Interstate 705 overpasses. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. -- The 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday came and went for the evictions from the Tacoma homeless camp underneath the Interstate 705 overpasses.

Many of the residents of "the Jungle" left peacefully before the deadline, but several remain.

The city of Tacoma says it's trying to be as patient as possible, but the residents say they have no place else to go. "We're scattering," said a resident who calls himself 'John John.'

Tacoma's Jungle has been here about three months and was growing each day. But unlike Seattle's Jungle, there has been no murder and no huge spike in serious crimes. "It's like family," said resident Ron Serpa. "Everybody takes care of each other."

But Tacoma and the state Department of Transportation say everyone has to go, calling it unsafe and unsanitary. Said John John,, "And then three days ago the city, the police came in and said you have three days to get out."

This after residents said some social service providers recommended they come here. "I think it's stupid," said resident Carolyn Stanford. "They're the ones who moved us down here. Now they just kick us out and nowhere else to go."

She and JR Fenimore say they're a married couple and that's why they don't go to shelters. , "The shelters like to separate the men and the women," Fenimore said. "So that's not for husbands and wives."

"That's a huge gap within our shelter system," said Colin DeForrest, Tacoma Homeless Services manager. "If you are a couple with no children, there's no where for you to go if you want to stay together with your significant other."

The rescue mission offered 30 beds for individuals Monday night, but there were no takers. Potential residents either don't want to be separated, sleep in a closed-in environment, have mental or drugs issues or just don't like the strict rules. "I'm a late-riser," said John John. "And there you have to be up by 6 a.m. and I'm not a 6 a.m. person anymore."

The city says it gave them ample warning to be out by Tuesday, but no one was forced to leave and no one was arrested. Both the city and state Transportation Department now say the evictions will be done in phases over the next few weeks. They didn't enforce a hard and fast deadline Tuesday.

"Whatever actions we take as a department," said Claudia Bingham Baker of WSDOT, "we want to make sure it's done humanely and compassionately for these folks who find themselves in this position."

So where are they going to go? A lot of them said they'll just find another spot to camp out. It solves the problem at the Jungle, but just moves it somewhere else.