Activists Pressure City Council to Find Nickelsville a New Home

The mayor’s homelessness czar says the city has found a new site for the camp.

After months of pressure from neighborhood activists, Seattle city leaders said on Monday that they’ve found a new site for a tent camp in Ballard that has to move by November 18. On Friday, they revealed its location in the Northlake neighborhood.

In 2015, city leaders passed an ordinance allowing for the creation of three authorized, supported tent and/or tiny house villages, in Interbay, Othello and Ballard. In 2015, Nickelsville opened a homeless encampment in Ballard, under an agreement with the City of Seattle and local neighbors that the camp would pack up and move to a new locations after two years at most.

That was almost two years ago. Recently, as the November 18 deadline for moving out approaches, campers have begun to fear that they will not find a new site in time, and their credibility with neighborhoods when negotiating over new encampments in the future will be damaged. “The city has offered the people living [at Nickelsville Ballard] the option of extending their stay indefinitely, until a new site can be identified,” Ballard resident Matthew Lang told the Full Council on Monday, Oct. 9. “These terms are unacceptable to the folks at Ballard Nickelsville, because they made a promise to the neighborhood to leave their current site at the end of their two year stay, and have resolved to maintain a reputation of honor.

“They refuse to be haunted by the ghosts of broken promises,” said Lang. “If they break their word, there will negative repercussions to their reputation as they work to develop trust with the neighbors of future encampments. They will move onto the streets before breaking their word to the neighborhood of Ballard.”

“We are committed to keeping our promise to move,” added Nickelsville Ballard resident Jennifer Hart. She told the city to hurry: “We are worried that a small site or a site that’s not ready will be chosen at the last minute. This will not do.”

An online petition asking the city help Nickelsville find a new site received more than 200 signatures. Joined by other neighborhood activists and Nickelsville representatives, Lang presented copies of the petition to the Council and then to mayoral homelessness policy czar George Scarola on Monday, Oct. 9. Scarola responded to the petition and comments by saying that the city has already found a new site.

“We have identified a location,” Scarola told the activists. “It is larger than the current Ballard one.” Scarola acknowledged the urgency created by the November 18 move-out date. “Obviously we’re behind, and winter is coming.”

Councilmember Mike O’Brien said on Monday that the new site’s location would go public later this week, probably, and added that it may be a challenge to get into habitable shape in time. On Friday, Oct. 14, the city revealed that the new location is in the Northlake neighborhood, at 3814 4th Ave. NE, on a property owned by Seattle City Light. According to the city, the new site is 20 percent larger than Nickelsville Ballard’s current site.

From a press release: “The City’s goal is to have the new Northlake site available for move-in by, or close to, the Ballard encampment permit expiration date. The City will support the Nickelsville residents to stay at the Ballard location until the new site is ready. The City is working with community stakeholders in Northlake, Wallingford, and Ballard to provide information on the upcoming move.” There will be a community meeting about the new site sometime in early November.

Nickelsville organizers are not happy with the site, which they were informed about before its location became public. While the new lot is larger than the current space that Nickelsville Ballard has, organizers worry that the usable space within the new site will be smaller than their current site, once city safety inspectors have their say.

In the months preceding the initial establishment of Nickelsville Ballard, city officials clashed with some Ballard residents and business owners over siting and process. “The city really had an opportunity to work with the community and business owners to get a win and they didn’t really do that,” Ballard business owner Eli Fisher told The Seattle Times. “They gave us some window-dressing about coming to the table to have discussions, but then nothing happened.”

But several Ballard residents sang the camp’s praises as a good neighbor at Monday’s Full Council. “I’m so grateful to have neighbors like the folks at Nickelsville Ballard,” said Ballard renter Olivia Smith. “They’ve built a safe, healthy community and have always had the utmost respect for everyone in the neighborhood. To be honest, I wish they could stay here forever.”

Ballard resident and District 6 Neighborhood Action Coalition member Gabriella Moller described the response she got when recently collecting signatures for the petition. “The most frequent question people asked me was, ‘You’re not making them move, are you?’” she said. “Everyone was eager to sign the petition. The fact that Ballard neighbors in particular voiced such strong support of the Nickelsville encampment is significant, given the strong negative outpouring when it was first established two years ago.”

A review by the Seattle Human Services Department gave sanctioned encampments high marks as cost-effective shelter communities. “The City-permitted encampments have met and exceeded the contracted performance measures,” it read. “The model is successfully serving people who have been living outside in greenbelts, on the streets, in cars and in hazardous situations.” In addition, the report said, crime didn’t spike near encampments, and neighbors warmed to them over time.

Neighborhood activists in Interbay and Queen Anne previously lobbied the Port of Seattle to help the Interbay encampment, which has the same deadline for moving to a new location as Nickelsville Ballard, find a new site. In September, the Port agreed to allow the encampment to move onto one of its properties.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated.

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