Seattle on track to open city-sponsored homeless camps
“We’ve spent a year trying to get these encampments up and running,” Mayor Ed Murray said. “During that time, over 30 homeless people have died in this city. This would never be my first choice, but we’ve got to do something, and something quick.”
Officials encountered opposition from some Ballard residents and business owners over the summer after naming a Seattle City Light property at 2826 Market St. as one of three preferred sites. The critics described the parcel near the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks as inappropriate and convinced officials to review alternative properties.
But Murray and City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who’s running for re-election in District 6, which includes Ballard, have now decided to move ahead with the Market Street site after all, they wrote in a recent letter to community members.
“City staff have been working for the last three months with members of the Ballard community to locate a viable alternative,” Murray and O’Brien wrote. “However, after a thorough analysis, we have determined that the (potential alternative) sites were either not available for encampment use or did not meet code requirements.”
“Window-dressing”Eli Fisher, a Ballard business owner and resident involved in the negotiations, called the outcome a disappointment. Fisher had hoped officials would settle on an alternative site on Leary Street, farther from the Locks and Ballard’s shopping strip.
“The city really had an opportunity to work with the community and business owners to get a win and they didn’t really do that,” he said. “They gave us some window-dressing about coming to the table to have discussions, but then nothing happened.”
In an email to community members, Murray’s chief of staff, Mike Fong, said officials will continue to evaluate the Leary Street site. But an encampment must open on Market Street in the meantime because the weather is growing colder, Fong said.
Ballard resident Chris Toman, 32, was one of more than 2,000 people who signed an online petition for the Market Street site (more than 1,600 people signed an online petition protesting the siting process in its entirety) and is happy the encampment will open soon.
“I think it’s important for every neighborhood to step up to help,” Toman said.
Nickelsville, one of two organizations approved by the city to operate such encampments, hopes to run the Market Street site. The group held a community meeting at a Ballard church Monday and will apply for a permit early next month.
The encampment could open as early as Nov. 9, according to officials. The plan is for the site to host 40 to 50 people in some tiny houses and as many as 21 tents.
Nickelsville currently runs an encampment hosted by a church at 1010 S. Dearborn St., near the Chinatown/International District.
Encampments hosted by religious entities are subject to fewer restrictions, but the group was recently asked to find another home.
Nickelsville intends to have about 15 people move from the South Dearborn Street site to the Market Street encampment next month. The group is seeking permission to operate an encampment on the Industrial District site, as well.
Some Ballard community members are upset because they were led to believe the Market Street encampment would be dedicated to Ballard’s homeless, Fisher said.
Interbay siteAn encampment may open at the Interbay site as early as Nov. 2, officials said. The plan is for it to host about 80 people.
Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) will apply for the permit next week. The organization held a meeting with Interbay community members earlier this month.
The encampment at 3234 17th Ave. W. will be called Tent City 5, said Michelle Atwood, who’s working on the plan and who lives in SHARE’s Tent City 3.
“We had a lot of support at the meeting from the neighboring businesses,” she said.
Murray in January proposed that the city site encampments for the first time, describing sanctioned tent cities as safer than a growing number of illegal camps.
The council approved an ordinance allowing up to three sites, excluding them from residential zones. They can house up to 100 people each and stay at a site for a year, with a possible extension. The operators must form community advisory committees.