By Marti Schodt – UW News Lab
Ballard community members and residents of the long-standing Nickelsville encampments gathered last night at Trinity United Methodist Church to discuss the new homeless camp coming to 2826 Market St. in early November.
The encampment plans were announced in June, along with two other Ballard locations, by Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Mike O’Brien in response to increased concern over the welfare of Seattle’s homeless as the winter months creep closer.
The Ballard encampment has been a source of public debate and controversy, with local residents angry at the lack of public input that went into the scouting of the locations.
“We should have done better than we did [on informing the public],” said O’Brien, “They’re right to be frustrated. But we’re learning.”
Despite the loud public outcry and contentious debate of the past couple months, last night’s meeting was relatively cordial as community members gathered in the pews to hear Nickelsville volunteers and residents tell their stories and answer the questions still circulating on size, scope, and safety of the incoming encampment.
“Tonight we will listen to what you have to say. We won’t have answers for all of your questions, but we will hear your concerns,” said one Nickelsville resident.
Meeting attendees were handed a thick packet of information upon entering the church, featuring a complete list of rules which will be in effect for all residents wishing to live in the new Market Street encampment.
The rules outline a complete ban on alcohol, drugs, and weapons, and require residents to leave the premises if they wish to smoke. Sex offenders are not allowed. Additionally, residents are required to attend a weekly camp meeting, and must sign in at camp every day or else have their spot given to the next in line. Quiet hours will be enforced from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
One meeting attendee said during the public comment portion that she wished she could live in a community with such considerate and stringent rules, and recommended that anyone who opposed the encampment “check their privilege.”
Despite the handout, many public commenters expressed concern for the safety of the residents living within the camp.
“How safe do you really feel?” said one community member, who was worried about the temptations of nearby liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries.
This question was met with a general groan from the audience, who seemed hesitant to accept the stereotype of homeless people as druggies and drunks.
“The only way to completely get us away from temptation is to stick us in the mountains,” said Kitty D, a current Nickelsville resident, to audience applause.
Another safety concern was that of criminal background checks for camp members. While residents are screened for history of sexual assault, full criminal investigations are not performed, according to Nickelsville resident Colin McCredie.
“If somebody has committed a crime, done their time, and done their service to their country in terms of incarceration … we do not pass judgement on them,” said McCredie.
Aside from safety concerns and a couple of angry commenters who were worried about parking and general neighborhood unattractiveness, the general tone of last night’s meeting was one of acceptance.
Multiple commentators said “I’m excited to be your neighbor,” “How do I make you feel welcome?,” “What can I do to help?” “Where can I send my donations?” Each expressed a desire to be involved in the new encampment and build a stronger community of inclusion.
Pastor Erik Wilson Weiberg of first Ballard Lutheran even put out a call for new choir members, requesting that the board screen for altos when admitting new members to the encampment.
The meeting ended with Ballard residents standing in line to shake the Nickelsville panel members’ hands, while honest discussions about homelessness in Seattle broke out across the room.
“Housing is a human right,” said Karen Studders, facilitator of the Ballard Community Taskforce on Homelessness and Hunger. “If you quote me on one thing, please quote me on that.”
Photo by Marti Schodt.