At a press conference this afternoon, Deputy Mayor Daryl Smith said that the city would concentrate its resources on converting the burnt-out Sunny Jim Peanut Butter Factory into a site suitable to host 100 or so homeless people next March, sidestepping immediate concerns by Nickelsville residents who must vacate their current location this weekend. When pressed, Smith called for a "leap of faith" from the religious community to host Nickelsville temporarily.
"If private property owner or another member of the faith community could step up and host them, that would be great," Smith said, adding that city-owned sites were presently unsuitable for an encampment. "Those seven sites have a variety of hurdles, some larger than others. It would be my hope that Nickelsville will understand that we have a project that we’re trying to hone in on, focusing in on what the site itself needs to be."
Smith then spoke in broad terms of the city's vision for the piloted permanent homeless site, which he dubbed Sunny's Place. The goal of Sunny's Place will be to "connect homeless individuals to services needed, run by a third-party entity to bring those needed services to the site," Smith said. "We hope for his and her bathrooms, showers, a place where people could gather and eat and have conversation. We have the overall goal of hopefully moving some of those individuals out of homelessness, towards self-sufficiency and towards housing." An office, locker spaces for residents, even an urban garden are being considered for the site.
Many questions remain unanswered at this point—who will manage Sunny's Place, how much it will cost the city (and whether city council will approve the expense), and what "permanent" really means, for example.
The Seattle Human Services Department is in the early stages of defining the pilot project—including expectations for a third-party manager, how to assess the project, and guidelines for residents themselves—and will open the bidding process to run the site in January. "We need to be able to show that we can make an incremental difference" for the pilot project to work, said Smith. In a conversation earlier today, Smith said he's encouraged Nickelsville to enter into this bidding process.
Smith says he's been briefing city council members and SODO business leaders about Sunny's Place. City officials are expected to organize a community forum in SODO about the project sometime before Thanksgiving to field questions from residents.