The Interbay Neighborhood Association (INA) is among the neighborhood entities decrying Mayor Ed Murray’s preferred picks for the new city-regulated homeless encampments that could be established this year.
Murray’s administration announced last week that he would suggest to the Seattle City Council that encampments be placed in Ballard, Interbay and the Industrial Area. The proposal calls for approximately 70 residents at the Interbay location, at 3234 17th Ave. W.
“Permitted encampments are not a permanent solution to the crisis of homelessness we are experiencing in Seattle,” Murray said in a press release. “These encampments will provide a safer community environment than sleeping under a highway overpass or on a park bench. Residents will have improved access to services, and we hope to open the door to permanent housing as quickly as we can.”
The City Council unanimously adopted the mayor’s proposed ordinance in April that allows up to three permitted encampments of no more than 100 persons each on city-owned property, a private entity or a major educational institution in commercial or industrial zones. Each location will be permitted for one year, with the possibility of permit renewal for an additional year. Each site must be vacant for one year between encampments, and each encampment must be at least one mile from other legal encampments.
Before recommending the sites, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) reviewed more than 135 vacant city-owned parcels.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who is running for the District 7 seat that includes Interbay, Queen Anne and Magnolia, said she supports the mayor’s vision to create safe spots for the homeless community.
“Managed encampments will offer the most basic resources for people, such as a 24-hour shelter with public health services, hygiene facilities and, potentially, access to electricity,” she said in a press release. “I wholeheartedly support this approach, which will make our city better for all of us.”
INA co-founder Jeff Thompson wrote a letter on his group’s behalf responding with an “absolute objection” to the proposed Interbay encampment, demanding that the city reconsider the policy of siting homeless encampments in a rotating system that will “lead to permanent ‘tent cities’” and unfairly burden the surrounding areas.
“City assurances that the encampments are only temporary fly in the face of the facts,” Thompson wrote. “There is no reasonable expectation that the city will address the larger problem of homelessness in Seattle by 2020, when these ‘temporary’ encampments are supposed to end.”
The letter calls the mayor’s process “nothing short of cruel.” And while acknowledging the challenge of citywide homelessness, Thompson contends the proposal places the tent compounds “amongst the most fragile neighborhoods that can least sustain the resulting damage to health, property and community.”
The Interbay Neighborhood Master Plan took nearly two decades of volunteer work to establish and implement. The plan, Thompson wrote, is creating new industrial jobs and workforce housing.
“This proposed action is an aggressive taking by the city of the resources the Interbay community has worked so long to create,” he wrote.
Thompson also wrote that the neighborhood, on its own, has managed to reduce homeless car encampments and crime and curtail the use of the landscape as dumps for abandoned furniture and cars. Thompson worries that the city will be trapped into extending the tenancy of the encampments to a permanent home.
“Furthermore, since the current proposal would service less than 5 percent of the estimated 3,000 current homeless on the streets, it is a logical assumption that additional encampments will follow,” Thompson wrote. “Tent cities sprinkled throughout all of Seattle will be the result of this legally dubious and deeply flawed policy.”
The letter also notes that INA members participated in two years of city-sponsored planning sessions for the neighborhood and that the encampment idea was never introduced or discussed.
“The current proposed assurances are hollow words,” Thompson wrote. “We deserve and require accountability, transparency and a valid voice in this matter.”
Ballard Chamber of Commerce executive director Mike Stewart wrote an email to Murray that also expressed frustration and disappointment over the selection process and lack of community engagement — especially considering the mayor never discussed the issue during a walking tour of Ballard in April, blocks from the proposed site.
“All the good, collaborative work Ballard has done in partnership with you and city departments like DPD is now at risk of falling apart because of a lack of transparency,” he wrote. “This is not how partners are treated.”
When asked about the concerns from Interbay, Jason Kelly, the mayor’s press secretary, called the mayor’s pick the first step in the process and that there are still several opportunities for community involvement and feedback. He said the first opportunity comes as the City Council considers the resolution that names all the potential locations.
After council approval, he said, the nonprofits that will operate the authorized encampments will need to apply for permits to use the sites.
“That permitting process will include outreach to the local community,” he said. “Encampments are also required to establish a Community Advisory Committee as part of their ongoing operations plan.”
Encampment operators selected
The city estimates that one-time start-up costs for the encampments will be $32,000, with annual lease costs and services for encampment residents of approximately $200,000 already provided in the 2015 budget.
Seattle’s Human Services Department has selected two encampment operators: SHARE and Nickelsville. The encampment ordinance requires that operators have prior experience managing shelters, low-income housing or homeless encampments. The mayor is also reaching out to faith-based and nonprofit organizations interested in operating an encampment.
The encampment operators are responsible for safety and security within the camp, and the operators will screen residents for acceptance. A third organization, Low Income Housing Institute, will provide case management services to individuals living in the encampments.
“A place to store your things, sit and talk with friends and rest your head at night are taken for granted by most of us,” said Mark Putnam, with the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, in a press release. “For many, however, these are not givens. Encampments can offer a temporary safe place for people to be human, while working to get back into stable housing.”
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