Members of the community have been been divided in their response to Wednesday’s confirmation that the City was moving forward with plans to open a homeless encampment at 2826 NW Market St. Many My Ballard readers have expressed their opinion through a stream of over 76 comments on our site and via social media.
The issue has certainly been a divisive one over the past few months and has been at the forefront of the minds of community leaders, local business owners and residents alike.
The My Ballard team had the chance to speak with Councilmember Mike O’Brien this morning to gain further insight into the decision making process which led to the Wednesday’s announcement.
According to Councilmember O’Brien, the City worked with a number of community stakeholders to source another location for the encampment, however, each of the six options were unsuitable for a number of different reasons.
“A number of the six alternatives to the Market St location were located in Shoreline Management areas which would be unable to host an encampment without changes to the Shoreline Management Act. This process requires approval of the State which is a multi-year process,” says O’Brien.
For example, the option close to the Yankee Diner (5400 block of Shilshole Ave NW) had two of its three land parcels located on Shoreline Management areas.
O’Brien confirmed that a privately-owned alternative, a site on NW Ballard Way that will be vacated by Trupanion pet insurance company next year, was already under a future lease and was not available. The option at Ballard Blocks II was also deemed unsuitable due to contamination by ground water which could not be treated in the needed time frame.
“We had to find a suitable option that would be able to house those in need before the cold months set in,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien did confirm, however, that the City is still looking into a potential alternative site on Leary Way NW on the east side of 15th Ave NW near the Ballard Bridge. The land is owned by the City that can house private entities on a 20 year lease.
“In order to make this site work, legislative processes would need to be undertaken to make lease changes and the land, which is likely contaminated, would need to be treated before an encampment is erected,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien estimated that the entirety of the process, including undertaking outreach with residents and business owners in the vicinity of the property, would take anywhere from 3 – 6 months or possibly longer.
O’Brien says that he “understands the concerns” expressed by community members and is “committed to pursuing a location that is a win on three counts for the community, the homeless and the City.”
Logistically speaking, the encampment is set to house approximately 40 residents and will open in the first half of November. The operator, Nicklesville, is unable to apply for the encampment permit until 14 days after holding a mandatory public meeting. The meeting is set to be held on Monday, October 19, at Trinity United Methodist Church (6512 23rd Ave NW in Ballard) at 7 p.m.
Once issued the initial 12 month permit, Nicklesville has the ability to renew it for another 12 months if all goes well. After 24 months, the encampment would need to move and that site would not be eligible to host an encampment again for at least 12 months.
In terms of the residents that will live at the Ballard encampment, O’Brien confirms that some will be those who are relocated from the current Nicklesville encampment on S Dearborn Ave after the permit expires on October 31.
“My understanding is that the residents will be relocated to both the Interbay and Ballard encampments. After the Dearborn St residents are relocated there will be spaces for those in need to apply to live at the Market St location,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien’s opponent in District 6 in next month’s election, Catherine Westbrook, released the following statement in response to Wednesday’s announcement:
I’ve lived here for more than twenty years. I know that my community is full of compassionate, caring people who want to help those less fortunate, yet many of those folks have been vilified by my opponent during this process, and are even more distrustful of the city now. This is not the way it should be. We need a city government that is open and transparent, and connected with our communities.
Members of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce also released a statement to express their disappointment. Executive Director of the Chamber, Mike Stewart, confirmed that “Ballard Chamber remains strongly opposed to the use of the Market Street site as a homeless encampment.”
According to Stewart, two viable alternatives suggested by stakeholders in the Ballard community were not considered by the City. “Rather than move to Market Street, the City could have directed Nickelsville to first locate at a larger, city-authorized SODO encampment site and then transition to the alternative Ballard site as soon as it is available,” says Stewart.
Stewart also pointed to a privately owned location that was identified and approved by Nicklesville as a viable encampment location at a site inspection on September 9.
“The Chamber secured participation from a willing private party that agreed to grant permission to use the site (which is larger than the Market Street site) for up to two years for the Ballard encampment. We also confirmed for City officials and Nickelsville that the alternative site could be cleared and ready for use within 4-5 weeks, well ahead of winter,” says Stewart.
Stewart referred to the City’s demand for a location that was “win-win-win” and believes that “the proposed alternative site could have accomplished this.”
Although opposition exists, some members of the community are completely behind the opening of the Market St encampment. A petition in support of the encampment reached over 2000 signatures and a group of Ballardites have come together to form a “welcoming committee” to organize the provision of food and clothing for the new residents.
Despite these mixed reactions, the City has made it clear that the encampment is going ahead at the Market St location.
“We know that concerns remain and we want to create a way in which to head and address these concerns,” says Councilmember O’Brien.
Locals are encouraged to attend Monday’s meeting to give their feedback or to contact Kim von Henkle in the City’s Human Services Department at (206) 615-1573 or email Kim.firstname.lastname@example.org.