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caption: Chris Sawyer with Rosy at her camp under State Route 509 in Tacoma
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Chris Sawyer with Rosy at her camp under State Route 509 in Tacoma
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

After weekend shooting, grief and uncertainty at a Tacoma homeless camp

The Port of Tacoma plans to clear a major homeless camp on Thursday, June 10.

An outreach team gave notice to residents there a couple weeks ago. It offered shelter, but word hasn’t reached all the residents yet.

Underneath State Route 509 between the Puyallup River and the railroad tracks, you'll find the holdouts; the people who haven't accepted Tacoma's offer of shelter.

There are maybe 30 tents and RVs. Some of them are occupied, some are clearly abandoned. A guy with a generator-powered reciprocating saw breaks down the remaining parts of a car, for scrap metal.

Chris Sawyer is one of the holdouts. Her reason for staying is simple: Her dog, Rosy.

“She’s my rock," she said. "She keeps me going. And yeah, the shelter wouldn’t take her, so… here we are.”

Tacoma’s big emergency tent shelters do allow dogs, according to a spokesperson for the city. But they don’t always have beds available. And many other shelters don't allow them.

“If my dog could stay with me, I would definitely go. But she can’t stay with me.”

So, when this place gets swept, Sawyer said she'll will find somewhere else to camp.

People here are pretty shaken up, at the moment. There's the Thursday deadline for leaving, so tensions were already high. And then, on Sunday night, a 24 year old man everybody here knew was shot with 15 rounds, according to the 911 call.

"I'm still blown away that he was shot," Sawyer said. "And he didn't deserve that. He was in his own home."

Sawyer heard the gun go off, and thought it was firecrackers. She found her friend on the ground. He was bleeding from the gut, and she said part of his intestines had come out.

caption: Sawyer found her friend on the ground near this spot.
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Sawyer found her friend on the ground near this spot.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

She stayed with him until someone was found to drive him to the hospital.

"Ambulances don't come down here," she explained.

"I just sat with him, and tried to keep him calm," she said. "I honestly thought he had died. I cried all night long, prayed for him. And I didn't find out until this morning he was in stable condition. But I was afraid for him."

The person who did the shooting is still at large, Tacoma Police confirmed Tuesday.

"I'm afraid for everyone down here now," Sawyer said. "People down here firing off guns all the time."

caption: Many homes in the camp are abandoned now, as the deadline for leaving draws near
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Many homes in the camp are abandoned now, as the deadline for leaving draws near
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Jamie Fricker drove down to the camp looking for her mother.

Fricker had accepted the Port of Tacoma's offer for shelter, and learned by phone that a spot had opened up for her in Tacoma's big emergency tent, which includes private spaces inside.

"I'm supposed to show up there in about five minutes," she said. "So I can't stay long."

Her mom wasn't in the camp when the offer of shelter was given, and Fricker wants to try to get her mom into the Tacoma shelter, too.

Fricker checked inside one of the RVs, then came back out.

"I've tried to call her, but I don't know where she's at," she said.

caption: Gary Castellane and his friend walk along the Puyallup River.
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Gary Castellane and his friend walk along the Puyallup River.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

G

ary Castellane was out taking a walk near the camp Tuesday, along the Puyallup River. He's a member of the Puyallup Tribe, which owns part of the land the camp is on, along with Port of Tacoma and Union Pacific.

Castellane pointed southeast of the camp, to the place where he grew up along the riverbank in a marshy neighborhood once known as "Hollywood Flats." He said you can still find his home's foundations, if you know where to dig.

The camp has left a different kind of mark on this land.

“Seeing this homeless camp down here – is like a double tragedy," he said. "One is, it’s kind of sacrilege to the native people who lived down here. And also, it’s a tragedy to see all these homeless people with no place to go and no recourse for anything. It seems like the United States ought to be able to do better for these people.”