Early on the morning of Wednesday, July 13, several bright red King County dump trucks filed onto 94th Place South off of Green River Road to clean up trash and debris from the roadway. The stretch of unincorporated King County in between Kent and Auburn is a hotspot for illegal dumping and the site of homeless encampments.
Heaps of trash consisting of everything from car tires to rugs and broken TVs have accumulated along the road since county workers last cleaned the road in December 2021.
King County estimates around 100 people experiencing homelessness are living in about 30 different encampments in the woods surrounding Green River Road.
The clean-up came after a three-day-long effort by workers with the King County Regional Homeless Authority and several nonprofits to connect people experiencing homelessness with shelter and resources. Cars and RVs parked along the road were notified they had to move prior to the clean-up.
Brent Champaco, a spokesperson for King County’s Local Services division said this cleanup was not a sweep of the homeless encampments and that no one was displaced or kicked out. Outreach workers who made contact with the people living in the area notified them about the cleanup ahead of time to ensure nobody’s personal belongings were taken, Champaco said.
“We know that several people had vehicles that work, and cleaned their spots and moved voluntarily, but there was a need for gas, car batteries and car tabs,” said Anne Martens from the King County Regional Homeless Authority. “REACH (which provides help to the homeless) was able to bring a nurse with them, and found that a number of people had medical complications, so they also connected people with medical care.”
The build-up of trash at the site isn’t solely due to the homeless encampments, Martens said housed people have dumped trash there too.
“There used to be a dumpster at the site, but neighbors and businesses were using it to the point of overflowing; we’ve also heard from outreach workers that they regularly see housed people coming to the site to dump their trash,” Martens said.
Dean Aldridge, the CEO of Maple Valley-based Valor Soccer club (Kent Covington Youth Soccer and Maple Valley Soccer Association merged in 2019), which uses the soccer field a few hundred feet from the cleanup site, said the problems related to homelessness and illegal dumping have gotten worse in recent years.
“Well, from my perspective, from our club’s perspective, from our board of directors’ perspective, we have been dealing with this for decades, but never like this,” Aldridge said. “Never like this.”
Aldridge said he and his kids would come out to the encampments with food for folks who were struggling and the club would occasionally hire them to mow the field. But recently, he’s worried about the safety of the kids who play soccer on the field.
“We pick needles up every day out on our fields, our porta potties get blown up every day, our toilet paper is stolen every day, our nets get cut and stolen,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge also raised concerns about the impact all the illegal dumping would have on the Green River, which is only a stone’s throw from the cleanup site. The problem is a big one, last December when county workers last cleaned the road, they collected over 60,000 pounds of garbage over a two-day period.
This time around county workers removed over 50,000 pounds in just one day, according to the county. Prior to the cleanup, King County Roads Division workers removed stolen cars from the site in preparation for the trash cleanup. Staff impounded four vehicles that were unoccupied. The King County Sheriff’s Office has recovered 14 stolen vehicles from the area over the last few months.
The cleanup effort followed a recent proposal by County Councilmember Reagan Dunn to create an interagency task force to clean up the Green River encampment and connect those living there with shelter and services.
“I am glad to see the county taking action to begin cleaning up Green River Road and responding to the serious concerns of the nearby communities,” Dunn said. “This is a good first step — but there is more to be done to fully address the sprawling string of homeless encampments in this area, connect more individuals experiencing homelessness with the services they need to get their life back on track, and maintain the safety and security of the surrounding neighborhoods. This is an important task, and one that I will continue to focus on.”