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Business owners in Ballard frustrated by 'endless spiral' of RV encampments

A burned RV is seen along Northwest Ballard Way in Ballard on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.{ } (Hannah Knowles / KOMO News){ }
A burned RV is seen along Northwest Ballard Way in Ballard on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Hannah Knowles / KOMO News)
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A fire that ripped through an RV encampment in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood on Tuesday came as no surprise to people who live and work nearby.

Video of the fire shows flames shooting out of the windows and a smoke plume over Ballard.

“The last couple weeks was the worst I’ve ever seen it," said Walt, who operates a landscaping company nearby and asked to only use his first name.

Walt said problems with people from the encampment are constant.

“Somebody pooped right in front of the door of a store here. It’s crazy. You have people coming around threatening you if you’re doing your job. Someone ran up to my employee with a hammer threatening to bash her head in," Walt said.

Residents at the encampment have been told city crews will clear any property that remains at the site on Thursday. According to the Seattle Mayor's Office, the Unified Care Team (UCT) is inspecting the site three times every week, and there has been RV remediation at the encampment on three occasions since December.

People in the area told KOMO News that the RVs shift from one block to the next anytime the city comes through to do enforcement.

"The citizens of Seattle are getting screwed," said Gene Willard, a customer at a cell phone store next to the encampment.

Willard said he grew up in Ballard and no longer feels safe walking through the neighborhood he once called home.

“If we had 300 more police as we should have like a normal city, we would have the Seattle we used to have, and we wouldn’t have this. I’m saddened by the way that the city council has screwed up this beautiful city," Willard said.

A KOMO News crew saw multiple people smoking what appeared to be fentanyl in the encampment on Wednesday.

“What frustrates me is the lack of enforcement of laws," Walt said.

Devin Millar and his girlfriend are living on the sidewalk of the encampment. Millar told KOMO News that he and his girlfriend came to Seattle from their home in Walla Walla because they had heard there was free public housing.

“Now we’re living inside a plastic greenhouse. It’s so damn hot during the day," Millar said.

He said they plan to pack up their greenhouse and move somewhere else in the neighborhood.

"I got to protect my girlfriend and my home," he told KOMO News. Millar said he would accept a spot in a tiny home village if it was offered.

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is preparing to open a new 'RV safe lot' where 30 RVs will be able to park and connect to services in the Interbay neighborhood. The site will also host a tiny home village.

City data shows a reduction of RV encampments on the streets from the end of the year to the end of March. However, the city acknowledged the data is just a point in time, and many RV sites move or are repopulated quickly. KOMO News profiled the tow company that is responsible for handling all of the junk RVs earlier this month.

“It’s the ugly underbelly of the homeless crisis, and that’s what it is. They are garbage, and they are unsafe. Bacteria, blackwater, rodents - who wants to live like that?" said Chuck Labertew of Lincoln Towing.

Back at the Ballard encampment, Willard said the area is stuck in an 'endless spiral' of RV encampments.

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“Now Seattle is known for everything - drugs and RV fires, oh we probably lead the pack in RV fires, that’s a good statistic," Willard said.

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