The Halcyon Mobile Home Park appears — from the inside, where manufactured homes with manicured lawns sit in neat rows — to be as quiet and peaceful as its name implies. However, for the tenants living in the park’s westernmost units, it has become anything but.
The issue is the little unpaved track that runs between Halcyon’s front gates and the street behind Home Depot’s Aurora Avenue North location.
While the path has long been an encampment site that offers people experiencing homelessness a relatively private area to pitch their tents, it is something else entirely now. The area has been swept several times over the years, but Halcyon resident Sean O’Brien said people keep coming back. In fact, as he sees it, the camp has only gotten bigger and more disorderly.
“All the ones that are up here are the ones that got scooted out of Green Lake area or Ballard or somewhere,” O’Brien said, blaming the city’s recent spate of sweeps for the camp’s growth. While the cluster of tents was no bother to park residents, he said the current camp has made life miserable for people living at Halcyon.
“Originally, it was a camp with just tents. Now it’s tents with huge dilapidated motor homes, wood structures they’ve built. […] This was never a road access; now there are cars down there. They play banging music all the time,” O’Brien said. “There are generators running all the time. They love to blow up propane tanks. That’s their big thing. Fireworks. There’s been numerous fires. We’ve had fires where the whole hillside was engulfed in flames.”
Fellow resident Eloise Mickelsen suggested that the sweeps had driven people with the most intense and difficult issues to their area.
“That hardcore element comes right to this park,” she said.
Michael Bratton, whose unit sits directly above the camp, and his neighbor Steve Kenney agreed, saying they had confirmed with four different campers that they’d previously lived in encampments in Green Lake or Ballard before being swept.
Last Friday, Bratton held up a printed-out picture of the track from 2019, when the area was home to only three tents and a lot of overgrown grass, by way of comparison. Joined by Kenney, he strolled down into the encampment’s current iteration, a sprawling settlement with multiple RVs and squat wooden shelters, many with concrete footings. While trash was ubiquitous, particularly striking was a raft of mangled shopping carts spanning every major retail store on Aurora, nestled up against the side of a burned-out Toyota truck.
And, as if to prove O’Brien right, the tour began next to a truck with an earth-shakingly loud sound system and ended with the loud crack of a massive firework, launched over the camp’s south end.
“There are people up here that are trying to sleep at night, and most of the people up here that I’m living [with] are almost sleep deprived,” Kenney said. He also suggested that the fireworks could cause a potentially devastating fire.
“There are fields here that can catch fire. You’re going to lose three or four because these things are like tinderboxes,” he said, noting that manufactured homes are particularly flammable. The fields he referenced are vacant stalls that he said management has not been keeping up with the grass.
Mickelsen said she’d also smelled something that a neighbor had told her was meth cooking, though she has no way of confirming it. Either way, due to her upper respiratory issues, she elected to stay inside until the odor left.
Besides drugs, which all four park residents alleged were a major part of why the camp was so troublesome, there is also the issue of theft. Rob and Sheri McCord installed a camera on their front porch, which overlooks the park’s main entrance. They’ve seen numerous people walking from the camp into the park in the middle of the night, only to go back out with their arms full. Once, a woman walked into their living room and stole Sheri’s purse off the coffee table while she was home.
“I’ve lost two weed eaters and one power washer. They broke into both of my garages. Cut the locks off of them and got in there,” Kenney said.
Worse yet, when residents have raised these issues with campers, tensions have flared. After a verbal altercation between a resident and a camper, that resident woke up to find all four of his tires slashed, O’Brien said. Kenney said he’d witnessed two campers come into the park to pick a fight with another neighbor. Residents report hearing gunshots from the camp frequently and say they’re afraid that, if the conflicts continue, serious violence could occur.
“What’s going to happen is, and I’m going to tell you this right now, somebody’s going to get killed,” Kenney said. People in the park aren’t exactly Second Amendment advocates, he said, but he and several other people have purchased shotguns for home defense. The feeling seems to be that they’re on their own. Residents said that they’d lodged complaints to every public official they could think of, as well as the police and fire department — who they said were there almost weekly anyway — all to no avail.
“People are angry, but most of all they’re terrified. Because they can’t do anything about it. They don’t know what to do about it. They don’t trust the police or the politicians to help,” Mickelsen said.
That said, many residents said they still sympathized with the plight of the campers.
“I don’t want to hurt the homeless people either. I want them to get help. I want the city to provide the necessary elements to get them where they need to go, and stop making it the citizens’ responsibility,” Mickelsen said. Her sympathy comes from her own experience with homelessness, she added.
“I’m thankful to the Lord to allow me to be in a box instead of being outdoors and all that. But I understand, because I have lived under a tree myself,” she said. While she wants the camp gone, posthaste, she thinks the best way to do it is with more compassion and more services.
“We have to stop looking at those homeless people as subhuman. We have to start looking at them as human beings with needs just like we have, to get them the help they need, so we all can have at least a livable situation,” she said.
O’Brien agreed, but he was a little more blunt.
“They [should] get them housed, get them treatment, get some social workers down there. Get ‘em out of there,” he said.
While the city does do trash pickup and has installed bathrooms near the south exit of the camp, campers said they hadn’t received many offers of housing.
The HOPE team has been there, according to Mickelsen. Jamie Housen, a spokesperson for Mayor Bruce Harrell, said that they’ve referred nine individuals to emergency shelters or tiny home villages. One former camper, back for a visit, said he’d gotten an apartment nearby with help from what sounded like REACH’s outreach workers.
Neither outreach team has been able to temper the camp’s expansion, though. Pedro, who lives in a large compound built around two RVs with matching paint, said it was because current housing options were unsuitable for most campers. One reason, he said, was that a lot of people would rather live in a tent than have restrictions placed on them by housing providers.
“I see some people getting into housing provided by the government, and three or four days later I see people back in this place. Because they say, themselves, ‘It’d be better to go to jail.’ In the end, those rules aren’t solving any problems. They’re making things worse,” he said.
His extensive vegetable garden, terraced into the hillside above his compound, for example, probably wouldn’t fly in a tiny house village. And while he said he would love to get into an apartment, there were a few other obstacles in his path.
“Me myself, I’m an ex-convict. I’m not ashamed, I’m not proud. If a person has a felony, it’s like, ‘You cannot rent in this place, you cannot have this job.’ What do they want me to do? They want me to go to Mars? I cannot go to Mars, so I have to be in here,” he said.
As Pedro’s situation illustrates, getting people housed isn’t a simple matter. However, a lack of suitable housing options hasn’t exactly stopped the city from going ahead with sweeps in the past. The Halcyon encampment has remained untouched, all while the Harrell administration has systematically cleared other major encampment sites.
“We heard originally that we were on the list of one of the encampments that was going to be cleaned and cleared out. But that’s just been talk. It’s just been to appease us. That was months ago and he hasn’t done anything,” O’Brien said. He and the other park residents have some theories as to why.
The city hasn’t swept this encampment, he thinks, “because this is an older mobile home park, it’s a little bit out of the city, there’s not nice homes.”
Mickelsen concurred, saying that the city was only concerned with visible homelessness, not ending homelessness.
“It’s like they’re happy to have ‘em stuck in this little corner in the back of our neighborhood — out of sight, out of mind. Nobody is grumbling except a couple of seniors in a mobile home park. We’re feeling pretty abandoned,” she said.
“We’re just 70 mobile homes up here with seniors in ‘em,” Kenney said. “What the hell do they care? If these people were in their backyard like they were here, they’d be gone the next day. If they were next to Harrell in his backyard, they wouldn’t be there the next day. Any one of the city council, if they had people like this living there, they wouldn’t be there the next day.”
The Seattle Human Services Department, District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez and the city’s two at-large councilmembers did not respond to a request for comment.
Housen, Harrell’s spokesperson, said in an email, “The city is aware of the encampment off Stone Ave N and in the vicinity of Halcyon Mobile Home Park. The Unified Care Team has prioritized this site for outreach over the coming weeks, and the Human Service Department’s HOPE Team will be coordinating this work in partnership with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and their contracted outreach providers.”
He added that the Unified Care Team meets regularly to decide which encampments to focus on, based on factors such as “shelter availability, impact to public space and the natural environment, pedestrian access, pending construction, public safety incidents and verified SPD and SFD data, and more.”
Read more of the July 13-19, 2022 issue.