A proposed site for a homeless tent encampment in Ballard is generating strong emotion from people on all sides of the issue — evident at a meeting on Aug. 12 where hundreds poured into Leif Erikson Lodge to express opposition, support or concern, overflowing into the hallway.
In early July, Mayor Ed Murray released a list of seven potential city-owned sites for homeless tent encampments, including three that could open in 2015. A site at 2826 NW Market St. that would serve up to 52 residents drew near-immediate pushback from local residents and business interests.
At a discussion that launched with boos toward city officials and was brought to a standstill several times by shouts and jeers, Diane Sugimura of the Department of Planning and Development gave a short presentation on the process of narrowing down sites.
“There are not a lot of properties available,” she said. “We actually had a hard time getting down to the seven.”
Locals see work being conducted to remove contaminants from soil on the property as a sign the city is moving forward. Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim said officials are making a good-faith effort to look at alternative sites, but stressed that the controversial Ballard location remains on the table.
Many residents spoke strongly against the Market Street site, citing safety and crime concerns alongside fear that the encampment will negatively affect businesses or put them out of business altogether. One resident said he believes if customers have a choice between renting a facility next to a homeless tent encampment and one that is not, they will choose the latter.
“I am not against the homeless, I’m against the location,” he said. “It’s about the perceptions of the people who are going to generate money for us.”
Comments centered largely on frustration that the city did not collaborate with community members before releasing the potential sites. Kim said it was clear trust and credibility had been lost, and Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said the city had erred.
“When the city fails at doing our process well, the homeless people in the encampment will be in the crossfire and that is disappointing,” he told Real Change.
Regardless, given the years-long waitlists at low-income and transitional housing and a rising homeless population, speakers who are currently experiencing homelessness — or on the cusp of it — said the situation is urgent, drawing applause and standing ovations from encampment supporters.
“If that hadn’t been available, I don’t know if I’d be alive today,” said Mike Stahl, a former resident of Nickelsville. “When you have a tent encampment, you have structure, you have rules and you have support.”
Opinions didn’t fall along a hard line between Ballard residents and those who have experienced homelessness. Ballard resident Todd Shively testified that he would welcome an encampment in the neighborhood or even in the park across the street from his house, where he already witnesses many unsheltered take refuge at night.
“I’m not sure there’s going to be a process that is going to satisfy everyone,” he said. “and I’m not sure we’re going to find a place for this encampment where it is far enough away from everyone.”
“I can appreciate that the process has been a strained one,” he later told Real Change. “But I think a lot of people are using a strained process as a shield of their true feeling, which is fear of a collection of homeless people. I was disappointed at the voices shouting out the loudest with nothing but anger and fear.”