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Washington transportation crew clears Seattle homeless encampment after arrests connected to rock-throwing

On Tuesday afternoon, state transportation workers notified a homeless encampment overlooking Interstate 90 near Rainier Avenue that residents would be forced to move their tents and belongings from the area because the encampment had been linked to someone throwing rocks at cars from the overpass.

Hours later, Seattle Police arrested a 41-year-old man and accused him of throwing rocks and debris at seven cars on the freeway near the encampment.

At 9 a.m. Thursday — less than 48 hours later — crews showed up to clear the encampment, saying it was still a danger.

About 10 people lived at the camp, according to community members and protesters who showed up to help. Most left quickly and without resistance. Only one person remained by Thursday afternoon, according to state Department of Transportation spokesperson Bart Treece.

The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless is funded by BECU, The Bernier McCaw Foundation, Campion Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over Project Homeless content.

As of last week, state troopers said they had responded to 161 rock-throwing reports in King County in 2021. Of those, 44 involved someone throwing debris from an overpass, while 117 involved debris thrown from the side of the freeway, a State Patrol statement said.

One incident in June left a driver on I-90 with a serious cut on his face.

Multiple incidents occurred near the encampment at Benvenuto Viewpoint. Last week, Seattle police also arrested a 39-year-old man at the encampment on suspicion of throwing objects onto the freeway, according to a Seattle Police Department announcement.

That prompted state DOT officials to ask troopers to survey the area, Treece said. The State Patrol decided that the encampment was a safety risk to travelers, enough so to clear it without giving the encampment 72 hours’ notice as Seattle and the transportation department typically do.

“We’re not saying that everyone who lived in that encampment was throwing rocks,” Treece said. “It’s just not a good situation all together … the area needs to be secured.”

An individual from the encampment declined to comment.

Jackson Lamp, who lives near the viewpoint, said he’s seen trash in the park but wasn’t concerned by the encampment’s residents.

“For me personally, I did not feel terribly unsafe,” Lamp said. “There were definitely some neighbors in the area who were feeling unsafe, especially the neighbors next door who have young children.”

About a dozen activists showed up early Thursday to protest the sweep, saying that the only solution to getting rid of encampments is to provide housing. Community members also distributed food and water and helped transport the belongings of individuals leaving the encampment.

Seattle-area outreach services visited the encampment Wednesday and referred one person to a shelter, according to city spokesperson Kevin Mundt. Outreach workers were also present during the clearing Thursday morning and offered shelter space to 10 individuals, but no one went, Mundt said.

State transportation officials plan to install large boulders on the concrete columns overlooking I-90 where the encampment was located to prevent people from accessing the area, Treece said. The process will take about a week.