SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan plans to expand the city’s Navigation Team, buoyed by new information that there has been a reduction in unauthorized encampments.

Durkan said Friday the city will hire four additional members who are not police officers to join the specially trained unit, which removes unsafe encampments from public property.

The additional hires will allow the unit to work seven days a week in neighborhoods throughout the city and respond to the public safety concerns that have echoed over the last couple of years. The move expands the “Nav Team” from 22 to 38 since 2017.

“This crisis requires urgent action and new steps. We will continue to work for holistic solutions and do more to help bring people inside and connect them with services and housing – and we will continue to invest in the strategies we know have an impact, like enhanced shelter and our Navigation Team,” said Durkan in a prepared statement. “The mission and work of the Navigation Team remains the same: Connecting people with services and helping them move into safer places. With vital new state resources in place, we will also continue to work with our partners at Washington State Department of Transportation to address homelessness in the state’s right-of-way near and along I-5 and I-90.”

The state Legislature committed more than a million dollars to encampment cleanup on state right-of-ways near the freeways, with the work slated to begin after July 1.

The news comes as the annual point-in-time count for Seattle and King County shows the first reduction in homelessness since 2012.

The Count Us In report by All Home says there are 11,199 people experiencing homelessness, including 5,971 people sheltered in emergency shelters and 5,228 on the streets, in vehicles, or tents. The count shows a 17% decrease in unsheltered people and an 8% decrease overall. The data had other positive numbers – a 7% reduction of families with children on the street, a 10% reduction in veterans, and 28% reduction in young adults.

The report also says 68% of the county’s unsheltered population identified during the street count were residing in Seattle, marking a 21% decrease in Seattle compared to 2018.

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The Navigation Team, which was formed to respond to the homelessness crisis, has also increased it’s workload.  According to data provided by the city, in 2017, it did 148 encampment removals subject to the 72-hour warning and removed 52 camps for hazards or immediate obstructions. In 2018, the Navigation Team did 297 encampment removals with the 72-hour notice and 254 hazard/obstructions removals.