UPDATE: Scott Morrow has been reinstated at Nickelsville, averting a potential crisis.*Original


Scott Morrow has been reinstated at Nickelsville, averting a potential crisis.

*Original story*

We may well be witnessing the final days of the Nickelsville encampment at 1010 S. Dearborn Street.

Amidst a situation described by a number of current and past residents as a “coup” and a “vicious takeover,” multiple sources tell Seattle Weekly that new leaders at the camp—facing allegations of threatening behavior and intimidation—are behind the ouster of long-time Nickelsville nonprofit director Scott Murrow, who received a vote of no confidence Jan. 29.

The development led Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which has historically provided money for necessities like honey buckets, trash removal, water, and other services at the camp, to threaten to pull their support if Morrow is not reinstated. Similarly, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd—the church responsible for the agreement that allows the camp to stay at its Dearborn Street location—has threatened to end its relationship with Nickelsville if Morrow isn’t brought back into the fold.

Morrow founded the 501c3 nonprofit that has operated the camp nearly a decade ago. In a letter issued shortly after being forced out, Morrow indicated the camp would need to find a new nonprofit to take over the operation if it hoped to survive. However, Lee and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd Pastor Steve Olsen have both said that their organizations will not work with any nonprofit besides Morrow’s.

At the regularly scheduled Thursday night meeting at Nickelsville on Feb. 5, residents and the camp’s new leadership team—including Nickelsville community member Lisa Hooper, who according to a press release has replaced Morrow on an interim basis—had the opportunity to reinstate Morrow through a popular vote. But according to LIHI director Sharon Lee and two Nickelsville residents that were present, that didn’t happen.

According to 51-year-old D’Mark Poole, who first arrived at Nickelsville in July 2013, such a vote never materialized because, “They wouldn’t allow us to really talk about it. … They weren’t really being transparent.” Poole tells Seattle Weekly that the encampment’s new leadership has been dismissive of the crisis facing Nickelsville.

Reached for comment this morning, Lee confirmed that LIHI will now pull its support of the Nickelsville camp at South Dearborn. As for the money, Lee says, “That’ll stop.” She expects to work with Morrow and his nonprofit to find a new location for campers. “Frankly, I think this needs to happen at this particular juncture,” Lee says, predicting that a new site will be managed far better.

In an email sent Saturday, Pastor Olsen wrote to Morrow that, “With great regret we must ask you to inform Nickelsville that if you are no longer able to continue as staff, we are no longer willing or able to continue as church host of the encampment at 1010 Dearborn Street.” This morning, in the aftermath of last night’s meeting, Olsen confirmed his church’s position. While he tells Seattle Weekly that he’s still “hopeful and prayerful” that an agreement can be reached and Morrow returns, in an email to the encampment’s leadership this afternoon Olsen wrote, “Your decision makes it impossible for us to continue as church host for Nickelsville.”

Olsen tells Seattle Weekly he’s not sure how long the eviction process might take.

The drama at Nickelsville has come to a head over the last few weeks. According to Lee and other current and former residents, including 60-year-old Herman Kahaloa, there are currently about 35 people living at the encampment, but many are newcomers. Kahaloa says that only about eight to 10 current campers have been at the location since before last September, and the current problems began erupting around the holidays. At least two current campers Seattle Weekly spoke with blame Morrow’s hardline policies on camp rules and camper evictions for the unfolding problems, and Hooper told Aaron Burkhalter of Real Change that Morrow’s ouster was a result of disagreements over “whether to bar residents for breaking rules.” Multiple attempts by Seattle Weekly to reach Hooper and the new Nickelsville leadership team, by phone and in-person at the camp, were unsuccessful.

What’s clear is many long-time Nickelsville residents have harsh words for the new Nickelsville leadership under Hooper’s direction.

“Whatever’s motivating them, they didn’t like the older guys that were there, the guys that were running the camp before,” says Kahaloa of the camp’s new leadership, which he accuses of hijacking the democratic process at Nickelsville and using intimidation and fear to persuade vulnerable residents to go along with the changes (or simply refuse to vote altogether). Kahaloa says he had been at Nickelsville for nine months, but decided to leave in December when the situation began to deteriorate. He has since been placed at Othello House in the Rainier Valley, a LIHI housing facility.

Asked what he believed is motivating the apparent coup at Nickelsville, Kahaloa answered only “power.” When asked if calling it a “hostile takeover” would be accurate, he replied, “That’s being mild. How about a vicious takeover.”

While he has his ardent supporters, it must be noted that Morrow isn’t a simple character, and this isn’t his first spate of controversy. As the director of the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), Morrow has been accused in the past of forcing homeless residents living at SHARE-affiliated tent cities to attend town halls and lobby on behalf of the homeless. SHARE has also been accused of misusing public money and illegally withholding bus tickets, as documented by Emily Heffter of the Seattle Times

in June of 2013. The accusations led to an investigation by the Seattle Police Department and FBI. As Heffter’s story notes, SHARE “provides more taxpayer-funded beds for homeless people than anyone in King County, and does it for a fraction of the cost.”

As it pertains to the current situation at Nickelsville on Dearborn Street, however, Morrow admits only to not allocating enough time for the camp. Poole believes that Morrow was “spread too thin,” and says the former leader was “blindsided” by the no confidence vote after spending time at the state capitol in Olympia advocating for the homeless in recent weeks.

Kahaloa, meanwhile, admits to having personal conflicts with Morrow, but nothing more. He says he endorses the ousted leader’s tenure at Nickelsville.

“Overall, I support Nickelsville, and I would like to see it go back to the way it was,” he tells Seattle Weekly.

At this point, that doesn’t seem likely.