I was surprised and saddened to read of the passing of Scott Morrow in the Seattle Times. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Morrow was a longtime activist in Seattle’s struggles with the issue of homelessness and an early proponent of sanctioned encampments and tiny-house villages. He died of pancreatic cancer on April 19. His tribute/obituary on Legacy.com details a life of advocacy and service.
I never met Scott Morrow. But when I signed on as a volunteer editor for Wallyhood last year, I thought an interesting transitional story between the “old” Wallyhood and the “new” version would be to check in on the Nickelsville tiny-house village that is situated near Ivar’s Salmon House at the base of 4th Avenue NE. Jordan Schwartz (Our Founder, who art on Bainbridge), had done a couple of stories on the village. Its fate seemed both tenuous and vaguely defined by the city during the pandemic (and that hasn’t changed). But while controversy and a perceived uptick in property crime continues to swirl around the row of RVs entrenched along Northlake Avenue, Nickelsville seemed to reside in the quiet eye of the storm. My idea was to try to get a perspective from the inside, to see how things were going, what the relationship to the city was, find out what the prognosis for the future was, and to see if the surrounding Wallingford community could provide any goods or assistance.
It was, however, difficult to find an “in” into Nickelsville. I couldn’t get anyone in the city (Mayor’s office and City Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s office) to talk to me about it, nor any officials from the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). Jordan had suggested some potential contacts, and his list included Scott Morrow. I sent another of my cold-call email solicitations to Scott—but like the other messages, I received no response.
I wound up writing what I could in one of my first articles for Wallyhood last year. There wasn’t much to relate, and certainly not the inside look at life in Nickelsville I had envisioned. But…and this is my fallback motto for the Wallyhood blog…”It’s Not Like We’re the New York Times”.
Not long after that article posted, I did hear from Morrow. He thanked me for writing the article and apologized that no one from Nickelsville had gotten back to me. He took responsibility for having dropped the ball in coordinating a response and a story. He welcomed me to visit and speak with the residents. This spring, I decided to take him up on the offer. I got back in touch, and Scott provided some contacts in the village. In March, I called Nickelsville and left a message for those contacts. But once again, I never heard back.
The Seattle Times article provides details and anecdotes on the passion of Scott Morrow, and his complex and controversial approaches to the issue of homelessness and the management of encampments. Nickelsville, in our neighborhood, perhaps reflects some of that. Its relationships to the city and LIHI have been prickly at best, and at times confrontational. The internal politics at Nickelsville are no less complicated, and some ex-residents have alleged bullying tactics and “narcissistic” personalities involved in the self-governing structure there (not unlike Seattle city government, a cynical person might observe).
I had no idea that Morrow was ill. His last email to me was a little over a month before he passed. Having failed to connect with Nickelsville directly, I was considering interviewing Scott to gain his perspective on the current state of homelessness in the region and the apparent buy-in by the city to the concept of tiny-house villages that he championed. In lieu of that, I am instead penning an appreciation of his fierce and independent dedication to improving the lives of much less privileged members of our local community. Rest in peace, Mr. Morrow.