The day before April Fools, a city employee donated several dozen ORCA transit passes to the campers at Tent City 5 in Ballard. An elected camp leader distributed them to campers. Hours later, word came from SHARE’s central leadership that the passes were to be re-collected and brought to the SHARE office. The next day, between five and eight of the passes were returned to TC5, with instructions from SHARE staff that they were to be used only for campers travelling to SHARE meetings or the protest encampment outside the King County Administrative Building.
These are the facts, confirmed by multiple sources including SHARE leadership. But facts are meaningless until woven together by a story.
Here’s the story Louie Warren, a camper and sometimes-executive committee (EC) member at TC5, told Seattle Weekly on April 1st. Warren says that 80 ORCA passes were dropped off that Thursday morning for the campers at TC5. “It was a woman who showed up, hands them over,” he says, “and says, ‘This is from Sound Transit.’ And then she was gone before I could…ask questions.”
A city spokesperson confirms that Sound Transit gave some ORCA passes to the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, “to distribute to disadvantaged communities/service providers, etc.” The spokesperson, Lois Maag, says the department left 50 to 60 ORCA passes at the front security desk at TC5 that Thursday. “The guard profusely thanked our staff member saying that they were running out of bus tickets and this would be helpful,” says Maag. “ The assumption was the cards would to go to the campers.”
Each pass had unlimited rides for about a week. So Warren decided to hand them out to campers. “As soon as I had them in my possession,” he says, “…I went to the camp bookkeeper and said, ‘I need to get a blank roster from everyone who’s in here right now, and I’m going to distribute these to everyone who’s in camp presently, right now.’” But there were too many passes—he says he was only able to distribute 22 of the 80. So he called TC3 in South Seattle and asked if they wanted the rest. They did.
“Well, that never happened,” Warren says ruefully. “‘Cause I also called SHARE for good measure, to let them know what was up.”
That afternoon, while Warren was absent, the campers gave up their ORCA passes. “Apparently [SHARE staff member] Michelle [Marchand] called back almost immediately and said that she wants all those cards rounded back up and returned,” says Warren. “So everyone had to give back their cards and they were going to be redistributed.”
“But they weren’t redistributed here, by any means.”
Instead, he says, only “like five” of the passes were returned to TC5. And those were restricted to use by campers commuting to either a SHARE meeting or the protest encampment outside the King County Administration.
Warren sees this as an infuriating waste of resources. “We’re supposed to allocate those to the two people that we’re sending every day to go to this protest,” he says. “Which does not make sense, because we still have paper [transit] tickets, which are one-time use.” These ORCA passes, on the other hand, “are all-week passes. You could use them a million times if you wanted to. So why on earth would you give an unlimited bus pass to a person who’s only going to use it for a quick, short ride to where we all know they’re going, and they’re going to sit there and literally camp out for like 12 hours?”
He continues: “It doesn’t make sense. We’re not using the full potential of these cards. Everyone here doesn’t have any bus passes, no tickets, no nothing. Everyone here is stranded unless they have money of their own or some bus passes they have from previously that was in the back of their wallet.”
It’s the waste that upsets Warren the most. “I’m so upset that they’re just sitting there, not being used.”
A SHARE staff member declined to speak for attribution, but did confirm the substance of Warren’s story, and confirmed that SHARE staff, not campers, made the decision about how to redistribute the ORCA passes.
SHARE made another TC5 camper, Robert Bowen, available to give SHARE’s side of the story.
“Someone did bring cards here to Tent City 5” on March 31st, Bowen says. “…The person [at] the [front] desk did not know [that] donations, cash or otherwise, are supposed to go through the SHARE office before they’re dispersed. This person then dispersed 25 of the bus passes…Once the office had gotten the message [about the ORCA passes] two hours later, they called back and said, ‘Can you please gather them back up? We’d like to re-disperse them. We’d like to take ownership of those,’ because that’s the policy: to take ownership of all donations. They re-gathered them up, redistributed them, and then our encampment ended up with eight passes.”
Campers at SHARE tent cities are required to do a certain amount of “community credit” hours each week, which can include attending the KCA Building protest or attending SHARE meetings at other sites. The ORCA passes, Bowen says, were available only to campers going to one of those two activities.
“As far as I know, [the ORCA passes] were redistributed amongst the other” SHARE sites, Bowen says. “As far as how many [ORCA passes] sat behind the desk for how long, and how unused they went, you’d probably have a better record of that than I do. I don’t work behind the desk.”
If I were a camper who needed to go to work or grocery shopping, could I have used the ORCA cards for that?
“Probably not,” Bowen says. “We can’t judge one person’s action greater than another, so what they simply did was just require that the cards be used to function with the SHARE organization’s own needs…We’re also trying not to show any favoritism.”
Bowen emphasizes the importance he sees in SHARE’s work, and the need for King County to give the organization more funding in order to manage its debt.
“You have…people sleeping on the streets right now because [SHARE] can’t [secure adequate] funding, so they’re like $50,000 or $60,000 in debt,” he says. “If we could just get their debt paid, we’ll get the people out of the plaza, our people can get back to their camp, and life can get back to normal.”
The ORCA passes expired about a week ago, but they’re still worth $5 apiece as reloadable ORCA cards. We’ve got a call out to find out what SHARE is doing with them.
UPDATE: SHARE board member Jarvis Capucion responded to this story via email, which read in part:
…It is SHARE Policy to accept all donations with a monetary value on behalf of the organization, and then decide within the SHARE COMMUNITY how to best use the resource. NO agency would allow the staff person at the front desk accepting donations to have sole discretion of how to allocate them.
You wouldn’t be even raising an eyebrow about this policy if we were a traditional homeless Mission or Agency.
Maybe you should scrutinize the outrageous shenanigans of the governmental bureaucracies that are not supporting our shelters, instead. As you are well aware we have been warning of our funding insufficiency for well over a year. The bureaucratic silence in response to our pleas is what really needs to be questioned.
But that seems not to be the standard operating procedure or desire of the Seattle Weekly and other corporate media. Instead, since we are SHARE, a poor peoples organization, you put us under the second- guessing magnifying glass.
In related news, blogger David Preston has a new post up in which he describes the sketchy tax breaks that he says accrued to a landowner that hosted the SHARE-related Nickelsville encampment until recently.
Preston reports that the land owner ABCD Trust, Inc. got $87,000 in tax breaks for hosting the Nickelsville encampment on South Dearborn Street, just east of I-5. But $50,000 of those tax breaks, he says, were for land that Nickelsville never used. Here’s a map illustrating the difference:
In short, Preston alleges that the landowner, ABCD Trust, Inc., got a big tax break for the land that hosted Nickelsville and for unused land adjacent to Nickelsville.
A spokesperson for the county assessor’s office confirms that these tax breaks did occur. We’ve got a call in with the State Department of Revenue to explain precisely who benefited from them and whether it was kosher for some of the tax-exempt land parcels to be vacant.
Update: The state Department of Revenue says that the tax breaks for land at and adjacent to Nickelsville were perfectly legal. Here are their detailed responses:
Was it kosher for the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd—which leased the land from ABCD Trust, Inc. and was one Nickelsville’s sponsoring organizations—to get tax breaks on the vacant parcels? Or were they supposed to be actively used for transitional housing?
The Department of Revenue inspected the sites December 2014 and determined that all eight of them were being used for exempt purposes (transitional housing). Five of the parcels -0609000030, 0609000035, 0609000040, 0609000045, and 0609000050 – contained actual housing (shelters and tents/tent platforms). The three adjacent parcels -0609000055, 0609000080, and 0609000085 – were used for gardening, donations and a collection point, and a children’s play/recreation area, which are all considered part of the transitional housing facility and supports the residents of the housing and their needs.
Who benefited from these tax breaks? Was it just the Church, or did they somehow trickle back up to the landowner?
RCW 84.36.043 (1)(b)(ii) provides a property tax exemption to a nonprofit organization providing emergency or transitional housing if: The property is rented or leased by the nonprofit organization and the benefit of the exemption inures to the nonprofit organization. In this case, part of the agreement between the applicant (church) and landowner included a property tax provision. The benefit of exemption granted in this case inured to the church, satisfying the law.