This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the mayor's office hopes to open a new encampment in October, not four months earlier as we initially reported. City council members call that timeline unrealistic and are looking at alternative sites. The mayor's spokesman Aaron Pickus now disputes that deputy mayor Darryl Smith is talking to the council about alternatives, as council member Nick Licata told us he was yesterday. Pickus now says the council is simply "working with Licata on the [mayor's preferred alternative]" and that if the council wants another site, they'll have to work on it themselves.
Nickelsville, the temporary homeless encampment that's currently housed in an abandoned fire station in Lake City, will move out May 15, when its extended temporary land-use permit to use the site runs out, members of SHARE/WHEEL, the group that runs the encampment, tell PubliCola.
Mayor Mike McGinn had vowed to move shelter residents into a new, semi-permanent encampment at the former Sunny Jim's peanut butter factory in SODO by May, but city council members pointed out practical concerns like the need for environmental review, the fact that the site is close to the Jungle, where people have been known to prey on the homeless, and the fact that the mayor's preferred site was not among seven locations recommended by the city. Now council member Nick Licata, a longtime advocate for the homeless, is suggesting that the city review its original recommendations for potential alternatives to the Sunny Jim's location.
The group had hoped to move its members to a new, city-sanctioned encampment at the Sunny Jim's site by May; however, opposition from neighbors of the site and the need for lengthy environmental review make that schedule all but impossible.
The city council has told McGinn his proposal for the encampment can't move forward until the city completes the required environmental review; meanwhile, a group of SODO businesses has said it will almost certainly challenge the encampment in court.
Last month, Nickelsville residents wrote McGinn a letter asking him to let them live on the Sunny Jim site on a temporary basis while environmental mitigation is underway, and operate a separate shelter, including a staffed "wet" shelter where people would be allowed to show up drunk, at the Lake City site.
Meanwhile, Licata says he'll ask the city to consider some of the potential encampment sites it recommended in a 2010 report (which did not recommend the Sunny Jim site), including a grassy space at the intersection of Dravus and 15th in Interbay where a monorail station was once planned (and which has better access to transit routes and services, Licata notes).
"I want to take a look at the top three recommendations [from the report] and see if any are more acceptable to council members' concerns about noise" and environmental issues, Licata says.
Licata says he's also interested in allowing more permanent structures than tents---along the lines of Portland's Dignity Village, which council member Sally Bagshaw praised on her blog earlier this month.
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus says the mayor's office still hopes to open the SODO encampment this year (a timeline most city council members have called unrealistic, given the long environmental review process and certainty of legal challenges), but adds that deputy mayor Darryl Smith "has been working pretty closely with Licata's office" on site alternatives. Next week, Smith will meet with Lake City residents to discuss the future of the current Nickelsville site.
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