Tiny house village for homeless women opens in Whittier Heights

After months of volunteer work, Seattle’s first sanctioned homeless camp dedicated to women is now open, and residents are moving in today.

Managed by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the Whittier Heights Tiny House Village — located at 8030 15th Ave. NW — features 15 tiny homes. The City Light building on site has been refurbished as a community area with restrooms, showers and laundry. Most of the houses were built by all-women teams of volunteers and carpenters, led by Women4Women.

LIHI says staff will be on the property around the clock to enforce a code of conduct and ensure a safe, clean environment. A case manager will assist residents to find long-term housing, employment and healthcare.

Some neighbors have expressed concerns about the new village — especially those located directly across the alley to the east. That side of the village is fenced off from the alley, and the sole entrance is located on 15th Ave. NW. The site is bordered by Homestreet Bank to the north and Duo apartments to the south.

The village was the site of Mayor Durkan’s announcement in May to ramp up short-term efforts to get homeless people off the streets. After Nickelsville moved out of Ballard in March, the village is the only sanctioned camp in the neighborhood.

City council to vote on head tax repeal

In a surprising about-face, Seattle City Council president Bruce Harrell has introduced an ordinance — for a vote in Tuesday’s council meeting — that would repeal the head tax.

The announcement was followed by a statement this afternoon from Mayor Jenny Durkan and seven councilmembers. “We heard you,” it said. “It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis.”

Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda did not sign the statement.

Meanwhile, the “No Tax on Jobs” campaign said it had gathered enough signatures to qualify for a referendum on the November ballot that would repeal the tax. A spokesperson told GeekWire that they’ll wait to see how the council votes before they submit the signatures.

Mayor announces plans to fight homelessness in Ballard press conference

In a media event at the new Whittier Heights Village for Women, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a short-term plan to get more homeless people off the street.

The plans aims to increase the number of shelter units in the next 90 days by 25% to serve an additional 522 people every night.

“Our shelters have been running at 93% full for several months,” Durkan said. “We have no place to move people that is safe. So I understand that this city is demanding results.”

She added, “We will not serve everybody, but it will make a marked difference.”

To add the new shelter capacity, Durkan said the city will add capacity to existing shelters as well as open two more tiny house camps: one at 18th and Yesler and another in South Lake Union, most likely at 8th and Aloha. The Whittier Heights Village for Women on 15th Ave. NW near 80th St. will open soon with room for 19 homeless women. The city will also offer temporary housing at Haddon Hall, an apartment building in Belltown.

Durkan said this is just a short-term boost to accompany longer term efforts to address core issues like behavioral health and affordable housing.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw also spoke at the event, calling on the state to help the city and county in the fight against homelessness.

“I want to call on our governor today,” Bagshaw said. “We need the help from the state and the region to do this, we cannot do all of it on the backs of Seattle taxpayers.”

The mayor was asked “why the city refuses to answer questions” about tiny houses camps — specifically plans to build one in South Lake Union.

“We are committed to real engagement. We want to hear from neighbors what their real concerns are,” Durkan responded. “I want to be as transparent as possible.”

She also admitted that the city needs to do a better job evaluating data surrounding tiny houses camps to get a better sense of impact and success.

(Photo above from Mayor Durkan’s Twitter account.)

‘No Tax on Jobs’ coalition pushing for referendum to repeal head tax

The grandson of the founder of Dick’s Drive-in is helping spearhead a new effort to bring a referendum to the ballot that aims to overturn the city’s new head tax.

Saul Spady, who runs a Seattle ad agency, is working with the new “No Tax on Jobs” coalition to gather 17,632 signatures by June 12th to qualify the referendum for the August ballot. Spady’s sister, Jasmine Donovan, is an executive at Dick’s Drive-in who co-wrote an editorial in the Seattle Times early this month that proposed an alternative to the head tax.

In addition to Spady, the coalition lists its officers as PushPay’s James Maiocco and Phillip Lloyd, a downtown accountant. Spady told Geekwire that his goal is to first repeal the head tax, then create a ballot initiative with alternative solutions to reduce homelessness.

The No Tax on Jobs website says the petition can be signed at 2211 Elliott Ave., Suite 200., however a story in The Stranger on Friday indicated that the petition language was still be worked out.

We’ll keep you updated.

Briefs: Tiny houses, O’Brien petition, Times opinion, tax alternative and more

In the wake of Wednesday’s town hall in Ballard, here are a few links and stories about the fight to reduce homelessness and the proposed employee head tax…

TINY HOUSES: The Whittier Heights Village (above), a tiny houses camp for homeless women at 8030 15th Ave. NW (above), is coming together. “We don’t have an exact (opening) date yet, but our projection is the end of May,” Low Income Housing Institute’s Aaron Long tells us. “There will be work parties at the site on weekends until it opens.”

O’BRIEN PETITION: A Change.org letter from “frustrated neighbors” to Councilmember Mike O’Brien has surpassed 2,000 signatures. “We have 4,000 (homeless) people outside, it’s growing every day because of the income-inequality,” O’Brien told Q13 when they asked him about the petition. “Can’t do this with less money — we need more resources.”

TIMES OPINION: The Seattle Times Editorial Board urges the city council and Mayor Durkan to reject the head tax proposal.

RESTRUCTURING: County Executive Constantine and Mayor Durkan say they’ll work together to create a more centralized and efficient homelessness response system.

TAX ALTERNATIVE: Leaders of three businesses, including Dick’s Drive-In, are promoting an alternative idea to the head tax: incentives for companies to donate money to non-profits.

CASE WORKERS: Some case workers say they’re a paycheck away from being homeless themselves, reports Crosscut. “I’m currently living with family members in Ballard,” says one in the story. “If I didn’t have that I’d be struggling hand to mouth like my coworkers.”

Ballard town hall turns into an angry shoutfest

Seattle homelessness, housing, taxes and growth are controversial enough on their own, but when you combine them all in a town hall meeting led by Seattle councilmembers, get ready for fireworks. Or worse.

That’s what happened Wednesday night at the “North Seattle Town Hall: Progressive Tax on Business” event at Ballard’s Trinity United Methodist Church. Led by Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold, the gathering devolved into a bizarre shoutfest that some reporters say they’ve never experienced in a Seattle meeting before.

KUOW even went as far as to say, “Let May 2, 2018 be known as the day that Seattle Nice died.” There was even a fake homeless encampment set up outside.

Adding fuel to the fire, a few hours earlier Amazon announced it was pausing construction over the proposed head tax. At first, O’Brien suggested that people text their questions to the panel, but many in the audience were prepared to speak their mind out loud — loudly.

Not much was accomplished over those 90 minutes, which KOMO News recorded in full, other than underlining how contentious these issues are in Ballard — the Old Ballard vs. New Ballard arguments are more intense than ever — and the rest of the city.

Here’s a sampling of coverage and perspectives:

KIRO 7 News: “O’Brien appeared to be surprised by the anger. ‘The tenor frankly in this country right now of whoever yells the loudest or says the most horrific thing, and that gets covered in the press, it’s really awful,’ he said. ‘I hope that attitude is not about to be here in Seattle.'”

The C is for Crank (Erica Barnett): “What I witnessed in Ballard tonight, at what was supposed to be a panel discussion, with a moderated Q&A, on a proposed business tax to pay for homeless services, was not just a crowd of angry neighbors wanting to be heard by their elected representatives. It was an organized mob that showed up with a single goal: To shut down dialogue, create chaos, and prevent people with opposing views from having a voice.”

770 Radio’s (Jason Rantz): “When you’re out of excuses for why you keep failing, and your only talking points are flat out lies, it’s no wonder O’Brien tried to shut up Seattleites from speaking at the town hall event. Thankfully, he’s fighting a losing battle.”

Tiny houses camp for homeless women coming to Whittier Heights

Volunteers have begun work preparing the City Light lot at 8030 15th Ave. NW for the city’s first sanctioned homeless camp for women.

The Whittier Heights Village for Women will feature 20 tiny houses operated by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the same group that has organized tiny houses for the Nickelsville sites. The existing City Light building on the lot will be refurbished as a community space with a kitchen, bathrooms, showers and laundry.

When the camp opens in May, LIHI staff will be on site around the clock “to supervise and keep the village clean, organized and safe,” according to the nonprofit group. LIHI will also provide a case manager to work with camp residents with the goal to transition them into permanent housing.

The site is bordered by Homestreet Bank to the north and Duo apartments to the south. The old Pancake House restaurant (soon to become Crown Hill Broiler) is across the street to the west. The only entrance to the camp will be on 15th Ave., not the alleyway behind it, which backs up to a residential area to the east.

LIHI plans to open the camp on Mother’s Day, May 13th. If you’re interested in helping put the camp together, contact LIHI via this page.

Ballard’s other sanctioned homeless camp, Nickelsville, moved to Northlake last month.

(Our thanks to Tyrel for the tip.)

Homeless tent blocks doorway of Whitman Middle School

A homeless tent has been set up in one of the entrance areas to Whitman Middle School, KIRO TV and MyNorthwest reported last night.

The school has been in spring break all week, and the tent has been set up since Tuesday, KIRO reported. School resumes on Monday.

A Seattle police officer arrived while KIRO was covering the story, but the tent’s occupant had left. It’s unclear if the tent remains today.

According to the city’s recently-updated unauthorized encampments rules (.pdf), the tent qualifies for removal because it “creates an obstruction” and is located at a school. But the rules require “notice shall be posted no fewer than 72 hours before an encampment removal.”

(Photo by KIRO’s Gary Horcher, @garyKIRO7 on Twitter)

Police sweep campers in Ballard Commons

Tuesday PM update: The city of Seattle said its “navigation team” — specially-trained police officers and outreach workers — discovered two people and three structures in Ballard Commons Park on Monday morning. Both people declined the city’s offer for shelter.

Spokesperson Will Lemke tells My Ballard that the city visited the unsanctioned encampment earlier this fall and were able to convince two others to accept the team’s offer of safer shelter. He said the city posted notice of the impending sweep on Dec. 6.

“Even with the authority to remove the encampment immediately, the city chose to conduct outreach to campers in hopes of connecting people living unsheltered to services and shelter and provided notice a week in advance of yesterday’s activities,” Lemke said. “The navigation team, which was launched earlier this year, has been able to successfully move 38% of the people they’ve contacted indoors, which is higher than previous efforts which saw acceptance rates for shelter in the single digits.”

Tuesday AM update: Police officers are keeping an eye on the park this morning. Just a little trash is left behind from Monday’s sweep:

Earlier: After posting a warning several days ago, the city removed several tents in the north end of Ballard Commons Park this (Monday) morning.

Four or five people have called the tents home, but some neighbors have complained about the unauthorized encampment. Others have been supportive, including one neighbor who gave the campers $60, according to a post in the My Ballard forum.

Meanwhile, the Ballard Alliance says the park is “underutilized,” and the merchant group is asking for ideas to make a new children’s play space.

The park will be on the agenda at the next Ballard District Council meeting, December 13 at 7:00 p.m. at Merrill Gardens, 2418 NW 56th St.

Mayor Murray hires director of homelessness

Mayor Ed Murray announced on Tuesday that George Scarola will serve as the City’s first ever cabinet-level director of homelessness.

Scarola will be responsible for leading the City’s homelessness efforts across departments, providing oversight and evaluation of outcomes, strategic guidance, and leading community engagement.

“Homelessness is a national epidemic, leaving cities like Seattle stepping in to fill the large gaps left behind by state and federal agencies,” said Mayor Murray,

According to the City’s press release, Scarola is an experienced public affairs and community relations manager having led advocacy organizations in Seattle and Olympia for over 25 years.

From 1992 to 1998 Scarola led the Sand Point Community Housing Project as Executive Director, which converted housing at the Sand Point Naval Air Station into homes for unsheltered youth, adults, and families.

After years of failed school ballot measures, Scarola helped turn the tide for public support for Seattle schools by managing the first success school bonding measure in the spring of 1995, followed by subsequent successful campaigns to fund Seattle schools and affordable housing for adults, seniors, and families.

“George is deeply committed to helping Seattle’s most vulnerable residents. We’re looking forward to George taking on this role and leading the City’s efforts in bringing together service providers, community leaders, and homeless advocates to collaboratively address the complex challenge homelessness presents to us all,” says Paul Lambros, Executive Director of Plymouth Housing Group.

Scarola will be paid an annual salary of $137,500 and started in his position on Wednesday, August 24.