On Sept. 12, the residents and supporters of Tent City 5, a city-sanctioned homeless encampment, celebrated the decision by the Port of Seattle to allow them to move to a Port-owned property in Interbay, not far from the current site that — by city rules — they had to vacate in November.
Residents of a collection of tiny houses and semi-permanent structures known as Nickelsville Ballard wondered, what about us?
The community at Nickelsville Ballard, like Tent City 5, is running up against a hard deadline. It’s been at the small site on Northwest Market Street for two years, the maximum amount of time it’s allowed to stay there. The 23 residents have to be out by mid-November, and currently they have nowhere to go.
But they and the collection of semi-permanent structures will be out by the deadline to keep the promises made to the camp’s housed neighbors two years ago, said Todd Baker, a resident.
“We said when our time is up, we’re out of here,” Baker said. “We don’t have anything but our word.”
According to a post by residents on social media, city officials showed residents — called Nickelodeons — four sites in June of this year, and asked them to weigh in on their preference. The Nickelodeons submitted their top two sites in July, and were told in September that they would get neither.
Instead they were given another option: a lot of approximately 8,000 square feet with “access issues.”
The city is “narrowing its list of options,” wrote Julie Moore, a spokesperson for Finance and Administrative Services, and will not publicly discuss potential sites until a recommended space has been selected.
The current encampment is small compared to most, about 9,400 square feet filled with tightly packed tiny houses and other small shelters. A small garden with handmade planters sits at the back near a communal table and kitchen, reportedly in space that cannot be used for housing per the Seattle land-use code.
If they accepted the smaller lot, the garden and space where campers meet with their case manager from the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) would have to go, at minimum, Baker said.
“They’re screwing the pooch,” Baker said.
A big part of the problem, in the eyes of residents, is that the short timeline gives them less opportunity to do community outreach to build relationships with the camp’s new neighborhood.
The decision to allow sanctioned encampments in the first place was controversial, and the neighborhood pushed back when the original Ballard site was selected.
The city has had sanctioned encampments since November 2015 when the City Council passed legislation allowing three.
Other encampments could open on church property, but they would have to move every few months.
The three identified in the 2015 legislation — in Ballard, Interbay and Othello — could stay in their locations for one year with the option to extend for a second year. After that, however, they had to move.
The first of these, located in Interbay, recently found a new home on the Tsubota property owned by the Port of Seattle after months of lobbying by campers, local businesses, residents and members of the Neighborhood Action Coalition (NAC), a group that sprung up after the November 2016 election.
Proponents of the camp wanted to keep it in the neighborhood rather than force the homeless residents to move into a new area of the city, farther from the housed community and the relationships that had been formed.
Nickelsville Ballard also has support from its neighbors. nac organizers plan to pressure the city to find an appropriate site.
In the meantime, the campers are waiting, hoping that the city will come through.
“Some semblance of humanity is not too much to ask,” Baker said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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