Interbay Village residents came out Tuesday night to thank the community for making them feel welcome and to share how their lives have improved since moving from the streets to tiny houses.

The Seattle Human Services Department held the Oct. 30 meeting to gather community feedback about the tiny house village, which moved to the Port of Seattle’s Tsubota property near the Magnolia Bridge in November 2017. Tiny Cabins Safe Harbor, formerly Tent City 5, hopes to not only hold on to the space for another year, but also see it expand.

The city contracts with the Low Income Housing Institute, which manages Seattle’s nine tiny villages. Interbay was one of the three original villages launched in 2016.

“This village exists for people who are unsheltered and for people who are looking to move into permanent housing,” said HSD planner Lisa Gustaveson.

The village has 24-hour security, a common kitchen area, case management, housing search support and medical resources, according to HSD.

She said 114 people were served in the first six months of 2018, “and that’s an excellent number; we’re very pleased with that.”

While it may seem low, Gustaveson said, HSD feels that moving 17 percent of Safe Harbor residents into permanent housing met its expectations, especially with a transition in management.

Resident Joseph “Panda” Procella told Queen Anne News that Safe Harbor asked former site manager SHARE/WHEEL to leave over the summer. LIHI stepped in after SHARE/WHEEL’s exit.

“We felt they were just in the way more than anything,” Procella said.

He said people weren’t getting the help they needed to find housing, and some were kicked out for minor issues. LIHI has been very good about providing residents with case management and covering expenses, Procella said.

Gustaveson said the City of Seattle has spent $240,000 to operate the Interbay Village in 2018. The lease with the Port of Seattle is only for $10 a year.

“I’ll tell you it costs a lot more money than that to run it,” Gustaveson said, “and LIHI does a great job at fundraising.”

Interbay Village encompasses 11,300 square feet of port property, with 30 tiny houses accommodating about 50 residents.

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections issued a six-month temporary use permit for an 18,000-square-foot encampment in July, which triggered the need for a SEPA environmental review. Magnolia resident Elizabeth Campbell and the Safe and Affordable Seattle (SAS) group filed an appeal to the Hearing Examiner, who heard arguments on Oct. 23. Campbell argued in her appeal that the SEPA review didn’t include the Port of Seattle in its checklist preparation, and that the checklist had “multiple intentional and substantial misstatements of facts” about the project.

Campbell is also challenging a final environmental impact statement for the Fort Lawton redevelopment.

Gustaveson said if the Hearing Examiner decides in the city’s favor, it can support LIHI’s expansion of Interbay Village.

Procella thanked those in the community that had welcomed and supported the village, including businesses, churches, neighbors and the Community Advisory Committee.

Port of Seattle spokesperson Mick Schultz shared emails from four businesses across the street from Interbay Village with HSD staff during the meeting, all of them claiming no issues with the sanctioned encampment, he said.

Elliot Godwin, known at the village as Mr. Fox, said he’d been displaced during Hurricane Katrina. He’d lost three apartments in Seattle due to rent hikes, he said, and had to stop his culinary education. Godwin told community members he’s now at a place where he can enter an apprenticeship to make desserts and pastries.

“Behind that fence I also have a sense of security,” he said of the village. “I’m a little guy,” but everyone looks out for each other.

Eric Nesheim said he’d been in a shelter a month ago, and on the streets prior to that. He’d been part of Tent City 3 at Seattle Pacific University back in December.

When on the streets, Nesheim said it was hard to fall asleep. He’d lost 10 phones and four guitars this year.

“You fall asleep, and it’s gone,” he said. “The only thing you can hold on to is your sleeping bag.”

It was hard for him to find a job before joining Safe Harbor, he said, because he would show up to interviews with dirty clothes and a large backpack. After joining Safe Harbor, he was able to find a job at a pizza parlor, Nesheim said.

With the exception of Magnolia resident Cindy Pierce, president of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, which opposes encampments and is critical of the city’s response to the homeless crisis, all residents at the Oct. 30 meeting spoke positively about their experiences with the people living at Safe Harbor.

“And it’s not you I’m against,” Pierce told Interbay Village residents. “It’s how the city has put this together. …The city council doesn’t care about you, and I mean that seriously. If they did, you wouldn’t be in the situation you are now.”

Sue Olson said her Magnolia United Church of Christ congregation provides the village with meals, sleeping bags, socks and other supplies regularly.

“It’s our joy to come into your home, your site, and see your smiles, and think maybe we’ve made your lives a little better,” she said.

Niki Amarantides, who is on the Community Advisory Committee and director for Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Learning, said people could learn lessons from the way Safe Harbor residents at Interbay Village worked together to maintain the tiny house village.

“We feel like a family in the camp,” said LIHI case manager Ali Sharekian, “and I feel, myself, like a member in this family.”

Procella manages a Tiny Cabins Safe Harbor website, which provides updates on the goings on at the encampment and what donations residents may need.

Comments regarding the second-year renewal can also be made at 206-727-8496 or through Thursday, Nov. 15.