PHOTOS: This Is Seattle's Notorious 'Jungle'

Jan 27, 2016

There’s a reason it’s called The Jungle.

It’s a stretch of woods between Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood and Interstate 5.

James Q. Tran, 33, and Jeannine L. Brooks, 45, also known as Jean Zapata, were fatally shot there Tuesday night; three others were wounded.

“The Jungle has been unmanageable and out of control for almost two decades,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said on Tuesday night. He had been giving a speech about homelessness when reports came in about gunshots in The Jungle.

Related: 2 People Killed At Homeless Encampment Known As 'The Jungle'

The Jungle's given name is the East Duwamish Greenbelt, but no one calls it that. It's been The Jungle since the 1930s, when the city's Hooverville shantytown extended to this stretch of woods. Such shantytowns were called hobo jungles, and The Jungle is believed to have retained its name. 

Interstate 5 has since moved in, providing both shelter from the rain and noise.  

"You've got that constant traffic drone sound," said Tim Harris, founding director of Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project. "When you're underneath the freeway, you see the freeway maybe 50 feet overhead. There are these big pillars. There's lot of shrubs and vegetation." 

Harris said he would watch himself if he were in The Jungle during the day. He said he wouldn't go in at night alone. 

The Jungle, the morning after five people were shot at the homeless encampment. Officially the East Duwamish Greenbelt, everyone calls it The Jungle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter
Cleanup was underway across the street from The Jungle on Wednesday morning at the intersection of Airport Way South and South Royal Brougham Way.
Credit KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Credit KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

    

Credit KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter
Credit KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter
Officers digging at The Jungle in Seattle in 2012.
Credit Seattle Police Department/Jonah Spangenthal-Lee
A file photo of the area where the shooting took place.
Credit Seattle Police Department/Jonah Spangenthal-Lee
An officer speaks to a resident of The Jungle in 2012.
Credit Seattle Police Department/Jonah Spangenthal-Lee

John Hord, who lives in the Nickelsville tent city, said living in The Jungle was terrifying. He was a journeyman carpenter at the time, and his housing support had fallen through. Without other options, he grabbed his camping gear and "crawled into the jungle."

He stored his tools in The Jungle, hoping all day they wouldn't get stolen. At night, sleeping was an illusion. 

"I'm a pretty big guy, but size doesn't matter in The Jungle," he said. "I'd hear people walking around or creeping around. I was in fear of my life a couple times. I wasn't getting steady REM sleep." 

Hord eventually got a spot at Nickelsville. He's not afraid anymore, and he enjoys the company of the other people living there.

"There are only 40 people. It's manageable," he said. "We know each other."

Others, too, have said they ended up in The Jungle because they had nowhere else to go. One resident told KUOW on Wednesday morning that he had just been released from jail. His space on Wednesday morning was tidy and private. 

Tuesday's victims were three men and two women between the ages of 25 and 45. The three who survived were immediately shuttled into surgery at Harborview Medical Center.

Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole called it a “targeted incident” and said the city didn’t need to worry. But homeless people around Seattle worried – would they face more prejudice? Were they in danger, more than usual?

Homelessness has been on the rise in Seattle -- despite an effort to combat homelessness a decade ago. Mayor Murray recently issued a state of emergency as tents continued to pop up under freeway overpasses. 

At the scene of the shooting, Murray was somber. "I can't help but wonder if I was too late. Maybe I should have issued state of emergency months ago."

Seattle officials mostly ignored The Jungle until the late 1990s, when neighbors complained that the people who lived in the woods were breaking into their homes and vandalizing their property.

In 1998, the city bulldozed the blackberry brambles and vines and encouraged the people who lived there to move to one of three tent cities that had just popped up. They would have better amenities there. At the time, officials believed that more than 100 people live in The Jungle.

Another sweep took place in 2003. The Seattle Times reported that about 80 people lived in The Jungle:

More than 10 tons of what the city called garbage — tents, fetid food and even a smashed ATM machine — was swept up as state crews mowed acres of underbrush to expose encampments.

In 2012, SPD Blotter writer Jonah Spangenthal-Lee reported that The Jungle remained a homeless encampment: 

Every day, thousands of people drive past the greenbelt—which sits on a Washington State Department of Transportation property along Interstate 5, stretching all the way up the South Precinct—or pass through it on the newly opened Mountain to Sound Trail, which rolls along Beacon Hill’s west slope. But the greenbelt’s forest canopy also serves as a shield from the elements for the many homeless men and women who live in encampments tucked into the wooded hillside. 

Police officers in The Jungle in 2012.
Credit Seattle Police Department/Jonah Spangenthal-Lee
Hooverville was Seattle's original hobo jungle, as shantytowns were often called. It is believed that The Jungle retained its name from those early days of Great Depression-era homelessness.
Credit King County Archives