City picks new sites for homeless encampments

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Homeless in the University District

Mayor Ed Murray on Monday announced seven sites to house new city-approved homeless encampments.

In a  press release, Murray’s office portrayed the action as helpful in dealing with homelessness though not necessarily an ideal solution.

“Permitted encampments are not a permanent solution to the crisis of homelessness we are experiencing in Seattle," the statement said. "These encampments will provide a safer community environment than sleeping under a highway overpass or on a park bench.”

The mayor's announcement, which Crosscut had reported earlier was ready for release, means that three of the seven sites will be occupied beginning this fall. Unless tent city managers request an extension, the encampments would relocate to three of the four potential new sites the following year.

According to Jarvis Capucion of the housing and resource non-profit Share/Wheel, the Department of Planning and Development offered his organization a 5,000 square foot property somewhere in Ballard and two 7,500 square foot properties: one in Interbay, the other in SoDo.

The mayor’s announcement confirmed the addresses for the first encampments as 2826 NW Market Street in Ballard, 3234 17th Avenue W. in Interbay and S. Industrial Way between 5th and 6th Avenue S.

The legislation to approve new homeless encampments was written by the mayor’s office and approved by the City Council last March. Its unanimous passage was a sharp turn from only two years prior, when the council rejected city-approved encampments. The belief at the time was that the city should only sanction permanent housing. The fear, said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, was that “if you build it they will come.” But Bagshaw, who voted in favor on the encampments in 2013, rejects that idea.

“People are already here,” she said. “It’s not that more people are going to come.” By approving homeless encampments, she said, the city can provide safe alternatives to de facto encampments, such as one just west of Yesler Terrace.

As it’s written, the legislation only allows encampments in non-residential zones, although Councilmember Kshama Sawant won passage of an amendment calling for a study of the effects of encampments in residential zones.

Management of the encampments may only be undertaken by approved and vetted organizations. Only two fit the bill in Seattle: Share/Wheel and Nickelsville. According to Capucion, Nickelsville is busy with other things, so Share/Wheel will take the reins on the first round. A Nickelsville representative, who gave his name as Jeff P., said Share/Wheel is currently better set up to take families.

While he is excited to be moving forward, Capucion said there are serious concerns about space and money. “All three sites are too small,” he said, expecting they would accommodate 100 people. “They would not fit 100 people.” In his estimation, each site for 100 people should be at least 10,000 square feet, providing 100 square feet per person.

But in its statement, the mayor’s office said the sites will hold 52, 70 and 78 residents apiece.

In addition to size, Capucion is concerned about the state of the offered facilities. The site in Ballard, he said, has hazardous waste on it that needs to be cleaned up. The site in SoDo lacks power and water. He called the Interbay site, which Seattle City Light currently uses to store telephone poles, the most promising as there is the possibility of expansion.

The Department of Planning and Development hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.

Capucion said his organization needs at least twice the $100,000 approved by the council and would like to see fewer restrictions on that money. The city’s Human Services Department currently reimburses Share/Wheel for money spent on portable toilets and trash. But Capucion would like to spend the money on staff and transportation subsidies as well.

This story was updated at 7:35 p.m. June 29 to reflect developments during the day.


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.