This week, Seattle City Council member Nick Licata is rolling out legislation to allow new homeless encampments on public and private property. The measure, which was hammered out with the help of Council Member Mike O'Brien and Mayor Mike McGinn, is intended to address deteriorating conditions at Nickelsville, the infamous homeless encampment currently residing on city land in Highland Park.
"Conditions at Nickelsville are not the best we should have for people," Licata says. The camp has recently faced flooding, a rat infestation, a spate of crime, and concerns about its self-governing structure after a two-year stint on its current site. The neighborhood group Highland Park Action Committee asked the city to evict the camp last month, saying its "existing management is actually intimidating campers into not seeking help or services, and pressuring residents to not call police." Says Licata: "I don't think we can continue having them there without providing them legal basis to move somewhere else." Mayor McGinn urged the council to support the legislation in a May 13 letter, saying, "The City cannot ignore the health and safety issues at the current Nickelsville site," nor the concerns of neighbors.
This legislation, slated to be formally introduced next week, would allow for new encampments on city or private land for up to a year, under certain management requirements. Currently, encampments are allowed on church properties, but Nickelsville hasn't found one willing to accept them. The deal would also allow local nonprofit Food Lifeline to buy the land Nickelsville currently resides on for construction of a new distribution center.
There's no telling if the proposal will have traction with the council—or with Nickelsville itself (no one from the encampment could be reached before press time). Real Change director Tim Harris says, "Real Change is 100 percent behind" this legislation, but identifies one sticking point: The legislation wouldn't allow encampments in neighborhoods zoned residential, and Nickelsville has previously opposed that restriction. Harris says it "doesn't seem politically possible" to allow encampments in residential neighborhoods, and that he hopes Nickelsville comes around. On the council, encampments have had little support in the past.
The council should be tripping over themselves to pass this, after three years of basically punting the issue, but sources say it'll be a tough sell on City Hall's second floor—even in an election year, when more eyes than usual are on the council.