Out of Mind?
The Council Moving Nickelsville Out of Sight Did Not Help Homelessness
In early summer, the fight over the homeless encampment Nickelsville in West Seattle was coming to a head at city hall, and it seemed possible that the rising tensions might force some new, creative options to arise in the city's long- running fight over how to serve a homeless population that far exceeds housing and shelter resources.
Instead, the Seattle City Council threw half a million dollars at the camp's residents through a contract with Union Gospel Mission (UGM), told the camp to get lost, and then acted confused when it didn't disappear.
Now Nickelsville has moved to three different sites (two sites in the Central District and another in Skyway, which is outside of town). By the time they packed up over Labor Day weekend, the camp's numbers had doubled, from around 80 to around 150. All told, UGM says they served about 60 people with housing and travel vouchers, treatment programs, and other services. Which is nice, but when seven city council members signed a letter to the mayor announcing their plan, their stated goal was that "Nickelsville be closed" by September 1, not split up and moved around.
What Real Change director Tim Harris called "an exceptional moment" this June to rethink our approach to homelessness devolved into the realization that the anti-encampment wing of the council is "apparently incapable of critical thought on the issue," says Harris now.
Carolyn Stauffer of the neighborhood group Highland Park Action Committee, which fought the city to address problems they saw with Nickelsville staying at the Highland Park site for so long without adequate services, says she's "floored" by the mayor and council's "lack of desire to be political leaders or to be problem solvers unless political heat is on."
What happens now? Tent cities will persist. "Tent cities are tenacious because they're meeting a survival need," Harris says.