By Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Seattle and state officials on Tuesday announced plans to move people out of the Seattle homeless encampment known as the Jungle, four months after the fatal shooting of two people raised new concerns about public safety and health issues there.

Social workers with the nonprofit Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission will spend the next several weeks persuading people to move out of the greenbelt in south Seattle and into shelters or other housing. They’ll also try to connect them with counseling, treatment, food assistance and other social services.

Jeff Lilley, the group’s president, acknowledged that it won’t be easy, but added that his group already works with some of the same people.

“The reality is we’re dealing with a difficult population that is a little jaded about the services we provide,” Lilley said, adding that “not all of them will move toward shelter.” But he said they’ll do their best to provide people with help and added that “just about anywhere is better than where they are.”

Initial estimates showed about 300 people were living in the hillside along I-5 in south Seattle, though more recent site visits have showed fewer people, officials said.

City officials said they don’t anticipate that arrests will be necessary.

Officials from Seattle and the Washington State Department of Transportation laid out their plans at a news conference in Seattle Tuesday.

Once people are moved out of the encampment, state and city crews plan to clear the hillside of garbage, overgrown vegetation and other debris and improve access for first responders and maintenance crews. The city will also hire a consultant to help the city and others figure out what to do with the area so people don’t return to living there.

Mayor Ed Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written statement they are working together to address the needs of people who live in the unsanctioned camps as well as the safety and public health issues that the decades-old encampment has presented.

“Through a combination of outreach and services, as well as better access for first responders, we hope to transition those currently living in tents under the freeway into stable shelter, while supporting public safety in the area,” Murray said.

Three teenage brothers have pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the January shooting. The shooting brought renewed attention to the longstanding unsanctioned homeless camp and came as Seattle wrestled with how to deal with increasing numbers of people living in the streets, in cars and other places. A one-night census of homeless in January revealed a 19 percent spike in Seattle, the third annual increase in as many years.

The state is using $1 million in its transportation budget that had been set aside for the homeless camp. The city will use existing city money to pay for outreach and social services.

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