Citing "a public health and safety emergency," seven members of the Seattle City Council sent a letter on Monday asking the mayor to evict Nickelsville, a homeless encampment that has occupied a property in West Seattle since 2011. It was the latest frustrated move from the council, fed up with complaints from neighbors and looking to sell that property to local nonprofit Food Lifeline, to do something about tent cities.
In response, Mayor Mike McGinn acquiesced. This is a "clear statement of intent" from the council, he said in a statement the same day. The mayor said he'll "follow the City Council's direction to evict those who remain" by the council's September 1 deadline. As a result, about 100 residents—a population that may double in summer—must find permanent housing or another place to squat.
Politically, the exchange is seen as a victory for the council, an example of the council leading where the mayor foundered. But in reality, this may benefit McGinn. The city faces legal action from angry neighbors. Now the mayor has political cover from the council to finally take decisive action.
But what happens to the residents of Nickelsville?
The council letter pledges funding for "targeted outreach" and "immediate provisions of shelter, housing and other services" to camp residents. However, this council majority is dreaming if they think a renewed push to house the encampment's residents will make their goals suddenly, magically achievable. If they have a plan that would house all of Nickelsville, and the money to enact it, why have they waited years to reveal it?
While most council members dismiss tent cities as inhumane, Council Member Nick Licata has sponsored a bill to legalize and regulate tent cities on certain land, thereby bringing them inside the reach of public-safety and social services. But thanks to the moderate council, that bill appears dead in the water.
One of the bill's supporters, Council Member Mike O'Brien, pointed out in the briefing that there are no tidy solutions: "I think we all keep wishing a really obvious solution would pop up. I don't think that's ever going to happen." But as for the council's hope to find permanent housing for Nickelsville residents, he said, "I don't know how we come up with 100 new units of housing in the next 90 days."