This past Tuesday, I attended the Nickelsville community meeting held at the UW Fisheries building down on Boat St. There were about 40 people in attendance, and the mood was mostly positive.
For those of you just joining us, the Ballard Nickelsville sanctioned homeless encampment is scheduled to move to Wallingford shortly, down by Ivar’s and Dunn Lumber. This has created some understandable concern among those nearby who fear the impact of an increased homeless population in their neighborhood, as well as some open arms by those sympathetic to the plight of the indigent. Often, these are the same people.
There were a number of people on hand to talk about the move and answer questions: George Scarolo, Seattle’s Homeless Czar, Lynn Best of Seattle City Light (who own the property), Sharon Lee, found Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI, the organization that helps manage the self-managed Nickelsville), Dianne Newsom of the Seattle Police Department and, importantly, several residents of the Nickelsville encampment.
The various presenters created a multi-perspective portrait of the encampment: it houses up to 40 people, including couples, people with pets and service animals, and families with teenagers (all categories excluded from city shelters). Resident managed and patrolled, it is drug, alcohol, and violence-free (violation can lead to temporary or permanent banishment). The encampment includes kitchens, bathrooms and showers, and on-site services including medical resources and, importantly, support for finding and securing permanent housing.
Seattle City Light owns the property the camp will be moving to and is leasing it to the city at market rate (as mandated by law). While the property presently holds a homely little home, the structure has been scheduled to be demolished for over a year: the existing tenant, on a month-to-month lease, was given notice in 2016 that he would have to move, and the city has provided relocation and storage assistance to him.
There is a strong drive to move people through Nickelsville and out to permanent housing. Several people raised questions probing this issue, backing into concerns that it becomes effectively permanent housing for a small, static population of otherwise homeless, and while we weren’t provided with enough data to put the issue to rest, they did say that 161 people had moved from the encampments into permanent housing in the past year.
The roles filled by the residents are varied, including security, arbiter, internal affairs, external affairs, donation coordinator, kitchen master, trash master and 24-hour security. All residents must have a valid government ID, and sex offenders are barred.
One interesting conversation wound around what happened when people were ejected from camp for a violation of terms. One person who had worked near the Ballard camp related how removing the offender from the camp didn’t remove them from the neighborhood: in fact, it deposited them in the neighborhood just outside the camp, where they were likely to stay and potentially cause trouble. In Ballard, some people who left the camp (as well as others unaffiliated with the camp) set up an unsanctioned camp nearby and ruined the surrounding property. The police confirmed that, as all citizens have civil rights, they can’t intercede unless someone is committing a crime.
On the other hand, the residents of the camp said, and the the police confirmed, that when people unaffiliated with the camp are causing trouble in the area, they will call in the police for help, and can act as eyes for security in general. It is, of course, in their interest that there not be problems in the area around their camp.
The police present reminded everyone present that the best way to report a problem with an unsanctioned camp was through the city’s Find It, Fix It mobile app. We were told it’s better than calling in a report because you will be provided a tracking number, and it connects with services such as 24-hour needle pickup. We were told that if you’re reporting an issue that is near Nickelsville or another sanctioned camp, to note that through the app, because the fact that the issue is near a “vulnerable population” will give extra priority to it when the issue is triaged by the navigation team.
A number of business owners from the Northlake area were present and raised concerns of a repeat situation in which a number of RV’s encamped along Northlake Way brought in crime, needles, feces, and other hazards. That said, the general attitude of all who spoke up was “we don’t want that again, but we understand Nickelsville is different, so we’re not objecting, we’re just asking for everyone, including Nickelsville residents themselves, to be proactive to make sure it is different.”
In addition, a number of people at the meeting asked how they could help. The camp welcomes everything from food donations to tiny house donations (they have six now with several more being built at approximately $2,000 apiece.)
The move date, originally scheduled for mid-November and then pushed out to mid-December, could well slide into January. The structure on the intended property still needs to be demolished, and services installed to support the encampment. When it is ready, there will be work parties, which I offered to announce through Wallyhood, so keep your ears out here if you’re interested.
I’ve also volunteered to serve on the seven person Community Advisory Council for the encampment, to act as a liaison between the camp and the community, and hopefully help ensure a good communication in both directions.