Eight months after the Seattle City Council took the huge step of voting to allow three new homeless encampments on city-owned land, two of those camps are set to open this week.
One camp, run by SHARE/WHEEL, will open today in Interbay near 17th Avenue and West Dravus Street. Mayor Ed Murray will stop by to tour the site today, and volunteers and future residents will build the camp in the next few weeks.
The other camp, Nickelsville Ballard, will be run by the Low Income Housing Institute and is set to open this weekend. That site has faced ugly opposition from neighbors and nearby business owners. The city has, thankfully, pushed forward anyway. The site will also have five tiny houses.
If you're interested in helping out, organizers say there will be a work party at Interbay soon, and they're in need of donated food, tents, blankets, and sleeping bags.
In Ballard, volunteers and current Nickelsville residents will set up the encampment at 2826 NW Market Street this Saturday at 9 a.m. Organizers say they'll need "drivers, vehicles, food, and people for unskilled tasks," plus "hand tools like hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, etc."
Back in 2013, the Seattle City Council voted against allowing city-sanctioned homeless encampments, despite the fact that encampments are safer than sleeping on the street or in precarious illegal encampments.
Then, late last year, Mayor Ed Murray convened a task force on unsheltered homelessness. That group recommended allowing seven new encampments, including some on city land. The mayor proposed allowing three on city land, and the city council passed that proposal earlier this year.
Since then, the city has been identifying land where encampments could be set up—they're not allowed in residential areas—and holding public meetings. (The camps were originally expected to be open in August, but, y'know, better late than never, I guess.) The city will pay for case managers and sanitation services at the three sites.
At last count, nearly 3,000 homeless people were sleeping on the streets of Seattle, a 22 percent jump from last year. This month, the mayor and King County Executive Dow Constantine both declared a state of emergency on homelessness. The mayor promised $5.3 million in new one-time money for that emergency and the city council this week added another $2.3 million on top of that.
The third city-sanctioned camp is expected to open in the coming weeks in SoDo. Nickelsville hopes to host tents and 12 tiny houses at that site.