WANTED: Non-profit organization to run multiple self-funded homeless encampments on a shoestring budget. Must have experience in homeless self-management models and compliance with federal data collection policies and procedures. The successful candidate will possess a high tolerance for risk and liability and a proven capacity for navigating the grey areas between idealism and expedience. Experience with large hateful crowds in a public meeting setting a plus.
Don’t everyone line up at once. With a third city-sanctioned camp opening on city property near Othello and calls for even more sites to mitigate the impact of unauthorized encampment sweeps, there’s plenty to go around.
But Scott Morrow, the quietly controversial figure behind SHARE and Nickelsville, is under fire within both organizations.
The Nickelsville encampment at Dearborn voted to fire Morrow earlier this month. The camp of approximately 30 residents is a mix of tents and tiny houses and is hosted by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
Church leadership say their agreement to host the encampment is with Morrow and the Low Income Housing Initiative (LIHI) and that if campers refuse their leadership, they must vacate the property.
A similar situation occurred last February at the same site. Presently, a stand-off exists between the church and Nickelsville members who refuse to leave.
Both of the city-hosted encampments also voted to oust Morrow, but rescinded their decisions after learning that severing their relationship would void their agreements with the city of Seattle.
But wait, there’s more.
Longtime SHARE leader Jarvis Capucion was recently at a human services roundtable that briefed the Seattle City Council on the encampments situation. Capucion said that unless SHARE received $40,000 from the city to cover its ongoing budget deficit, they would be forced to dissolve by the end of this month.
Between SHARE's indoors small-site church shelters, the Bunkhouse transitional housing program, the new Tiny House Village in the Central District and the multiple encampments that it manages, the non-profit provides a safe place for more than 450 people in Seattle at less than five dollars a bed a night. More typically, shelter costs about four times this amount.
Call them “too big to fail.” SHARE, with its low-cost self-management model, is at the center of a harm-reduction strategy that provides essential community and safety to homeless people in Seattle. Meanwhile, in response to community pressure, the city has escalated clearances of unauthorized homeless camps and is desperate for places for people to go.
Like it or not, Seattle needs SHARE and Nickelsville. At the same time, residents of the encampments deserve to have their concerns addressed without threat of eviction.
I count four Morrow-run authorized encampments, with another on the way. Tent City 3 has been hosted on church property for more than a decade. New city-sanctioned encampments are in Ballard and Interbay, and a third city-hosted site will soon open in Seattle’s south end. The Dearborn encampment survives from the original Nickelsville and is in open revolt against its host.
And this whole balancing act rests upon an organization that is heavily in debt and threatening closure within weeks unless the city bails them out. While this situation is made more tenable with the strong backing of LIHI, SHARE's position remains precarious at best.
I don’t know anyone who believes that the conditions for long-term success of self-managed encampments have been met. These would include realistic staffing and resources, authentic channels for resolution of grievances and city support for new encampment hosts that offer a sustainable mix of public and private funding.
Authorized encampments are an essential piece of Seattle’s continuum of homeless services, but Scott Morrow, the man behind all the tents, is caught between the rock and hard place of increased expectations, insufficient resources and member dissatisfaction.
Seattle’s “embrace” of self-managed homeless encampments has been more of an embarrassed and distant bro hug that leaves the camps mostly on their own. If this experiment is to succeed, the city will need to more fully commit.