The mayor needs to pick a permanent site for the nomadic tent encampment of homeless people called Nickelsville, according to a recommendation of the Housing and Services for Seattle's Unsheltered Homeless Population panel today. However, the panel, appointed by Mayor Mike McGinn, did not recommend any specific location. Asked repeatedly, panelists said that the decision belongs to the mayor.
Deputy mayor Darryl Smith says his office will send a list of city-owned prospective sites to the panelists for their input this week, and the final decision would be made by the human services and planning and development departments, along with the mayor's office. Smith did not want to disclose the names of the sites to the media before giving the panelists a chance to see them. He added that a private citizen could also offer land.
Advocates for the homeless enthusiastically greeted the news. "We see so many people not accommodated by shelters—this will be a great option," said Tim Harris of Real Change newspaper. There was a friendly amendment, which the panel approved, to find a location that could support an "eco-village," which would include a building as a central hub for the outdoor tent village and include some sort of garden.
Nickelsville has been met with controversy when it moved to new sites in the past, but the organization's staff said Monday that they have not heard any concerns about a permanent encampment so far. Some council members have expressed concern about the idea, including Council member Sally Bagshaw who recently advocated against a permanent site for Nickelville on her blog.
"We will work with the council to address any concerns they have," said Smith. "But of course, nothing is guaranteed."
More after the jump.
With winter fast approaching, the panel stressed the urgency of having the recommendation implemented soon. "It's difficult to put a timeline on this, but it's our goal to move as quickly as possible," Smith said. The panel also recommended that the city allow homeless people to camp overnight on public property without getting arrested, and that the city open up public facilities, including City Hall, to shelter the homeless.
Smith sat in on the discussion at City Hall this afternoon, which was attended by nearly 100 people. "He [Smith] was non-committal," said panel chair Rick Friedhoff, director of the Compass Center, which provides housing services to the homeless. "We are waiting to see how the citizenry would react."
Nickleodeans, residents of the encampment, say don't mind moving to a semi-industrial area, as long as they have "friendly" neighbors. Drugs, weapons, and sex offenders would be banned from this self-governed encampment and IDs would be mandatory.
Right now, Nickelsville is camped out on the parking lot of the University Congregational Church in the U-district. Tent cities usually have to move every 90 days. The panel recommends that the City of Seattle sanction available property to Nickelsville while aggressively pursuing low-income housing for the homeless as a long-term solution. Pastor Catherine Foote of University Congregational Church said there was no chance of Seattle having a squatter problem. "I am not worried about a community like Nickelsville," she said. "They are very responsible."