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August 5, 2013 at 6:25 AM

Nickelsville homeless camp growing; ‘a very ugly scenario’ for Sept. 1

The Seattle City Council’s $500,000 contract with Union Gospel Mission to transition residents out of the Nickelsville tent encampment seems to presume the camp will be slowly shrinking in advance of the council’s Sept. 1 deadline to close the camp.

But weekly updates issued by the city’s Human Services Department show that is a false assumption. As Union Gospel Mission works diligently to move residents out (24 to date, plus 19 others connected with social services or traveler’s aid), the camp continues to fill up.

From the Aug. 2 weekly update, repeating a concern raised in the July 26 update:

Critical Issues/Next Steps: UGM is experiencing challenges on site, as new residents have begun moving into vacated sites soon after the previous residents have been placed.  HSD and other City staff are working with UGM to address this recent development, and will continue to provide updates.

City Hall sources say the council wanted pallets which serve as a foundation for tents to be removed as the tent’s occupants were transitioned into more permanent housing. Backfilling of Nickelsville is worrisome because it creates the possibility that Nickelsville will still be full come Sept. 1. “That creates a very ugly scenario,” said one source.

Seattle Times photo / Steve Ringman

Seattle Times photo / Steve Ringman

I called the Human Services Department to ask, and got a callback from deputy mayor Darryl Smith. He seemed surprised when I asked if pallets are being removed as tents are emptied. “It’s a good question,” said Smith. “I suspect they too would be replaced.”

Smith suggested that removing the pallets of emptied tents could create tension between Nickelsville and UGM.  Having cooperation is a really important part of the whole recipe. If they say they’re going to be confrontational with UGM, that’s not good for anyone,” said Smith.

Homeless continue to come to Nickelsville because there is a huge unmet need, and the contract with UGM lit a beacon for other homeless families, he said. “Once the council put $500,000 in, word gets out that this is an access site” for services, said Smith. “That’s part of the reason people are showing up.”

On the other hand, the council has spoken on this issue. Last week, it rejected legislation, backed by McGinn, to sanction camps like Nickelsville, which has squatted on city land for more than two years. Seven city council members have signed on to a letter demanding Nickelsville close Sept. 1.

Allowing Nickelsville to backfill as residents are transitioned out – at city expense – seems self-defeating. And, considering that Nickelsville started as political protest, it also seems potentially explosive if the city moves forcefully to close it.

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