Asylum seekers camped out next to Washington state freeway demanding housing

(The Center Square) – It’s been nearly a month since asylum seekers set up camp on property next to SR-167 in Kent, urging city leaders to let them move into a vacant hotel on Central Avenue.

“We are here one month now,” said Oscar, who on Tuesday told The Center Square he came from Africa.


Asked how he got into the country and came to Washington, Oscar said, “We came up through Mexico yes, we were there.”

He said they came to Washington because they were told they would be “getting help.”

“That’s exactly what we’re hearing,” said Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. “When the church in Tukwila (Riverton United Methodist) opened up to them, that was a really significant signal to folks to come here.”

The group later moved to Quality Inn in Kent after the church in Tukwila became overcrowded.

A nonprofit initially paid for them to stay at the Kent hotel, but that money ran out and the group was forced to move outside to the current location.


Asked how much money it cost to get help entering the country, Oscar said, “Yes, we spend some money to get here, a lot of money, I had to ask for help,” he said.

There are now about 150 asylum seekers living in the encampment in tents, covered with tarps. There are portable bathrooms, large dumpsters and a covered central area with tables for meals.

Ralph told The Center Square the day they moved in and set up, everything was in place, “very calculated and planned out,” she said.

On Tuesday, The Center Square saw several groups dropping off supplies and cleaning up garbage around the property including several people from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

“I don’t know for other people, but we are here because we need help,” Oscar said. “I have some college and would like more, and maybe I find someone to help me to stay here.”

The Econo Lodge was purchased by King County in 2020 to be used as housing during the COVID emergency.

Ralph has faced pressure to open the facility for the asylum seekers, but tells The Center Square, it’s not her call with the property under control of King County and not the city.

She said neither the county nor South King County cities have the resources to provide housing, but she’s hopeful the county will soon be working with the asylum seekers to find housing.


Ralph said mayors from nine cities met with Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month to talk about money the state plans to release to fund housing but that specifics of where that money will go remains to be determined.

Ralph said they have received hundreds of form letters from organizations pressing the city to help the asylum seekers.

“One of the letters was from someone in Kent, the rest have been mostly from Seattle,” said Ralph. “The emails I’m getting from Kent residents are all frustration and anger.”

Representatives from King County did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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