Until December 19, an International District parking lot on Jackson Street served as a makeshift space for the Safe Haven homeless shelter, a community of about 40 adults. The encampment materialized each night beneath an I-5 overpass, at the back end of a commercial parking lot, providing some relief from winter weather.

But Safe Haven received a Scrooge-like holiday message from the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, three months into their stay under the freeway: They were not welcome to sleep in the parking lot. The Chamber claimed that the shelter adversely affected business and worsened social problems in the neighborhood, and they wanted it to move.

"Our businesses were suffering," says May Wan, president of the Chamber. Countless homeless people sleep on the streets of the International District and Pioneer Square each night, and area businesses felt that this addition was making things worse by increasing already chronic loitering, trash, and crime issues in the neighborhood.

Wan says that restaurants in the area were also concerned customers would see the encampment and avoid the area. "They can't find parking, they don't know what's going on, and they just drive away," Wan says.

Plus, no one asked the businesses if a shelter was okay with them. Wan says, "I think that the business people here deserve the respect of being asked for an opinion."

But Bob Santos, executive director of Inter*Im, the International District Improvement Association--the proprietor of the lot (they lease it from the State Department of Transportation)--says he made a point of not asking the local businesses. Nor did he call the cops on the shelter, allowing it to stay there on the sly.

"There would be an uproar and a backlash. [Safe Haven] would never have gotten a foot in there," Santos says.

Moreover, Santos says the shelter had such a small impact on the community--shelter members are only in the lot at night, and they adhere to a strict code of conduct. The Chamber of Commerce didn't even know it existed until a month after the group moved in, shelter officials say.

"I never told anybody down here. I figured that Safe Haven comes in at 10 o'clock and leaves early in the morning. What [businesses] don't know will never hurt them," Santos says.

Santos knew the parking lot wasn't a permanent solution, and called organizations around Seattle looking for a better location for the 40 people. In early December, Santos hadn't found a new space, but Wan called a meeting with Santos and asked him to clear the shelter out.

"We asked them to leave," Wan says. "Speaking for the merchants, that's what we wanted." Though the Chamber admits it doesn't have the direct authority to evict the shelter, Santos says Safe Haven opted to leave his lot instead of facing a battle with the Chamber, who could call the Department of Transportation or the mayor.

Safe Haven had until Wednesday, December 19 to leave, and they weren't sure where they would sleep next--but Santos secured a space through the Port of Seattle at the last minute. "I knew that they have some properties that are underutilized," Santos says.

"He informed us of the need, so we said, 'We'll see what we can do to help you out,'" says Port spokesperson Mick Shultz. On December 19, the shelter members spent their first night in a heated room on Pier 46--a space formerly used by the Port of Seattle Police for storage. Port officials turned it into emergency winter shelter for Safe Haven's members, who can stay until March 31.

This is the second major move for the Safe Haven members. Before taking up residence under I-5, the group spent over two years in the basement of First United Methodist Church on Fifth Avenue. But the church wanted to find a provider with expanded social services, and Safe Haven didn't fit the bill. The shelter members left the church in September.