Mayoral staff and SPD representatives summarily dismissed safety concerns from residents of Georgetown and Beacon Hill last night at a town hall meeting regarding the mayor's plans to set up a permanent homeless shelter in SODO to replace the roaming homeless shelter known as Nickelsville.

Erica has covered the city council's reservations: concerns about the specific site (located right next to major freeways and The Jungle, a historically dodgy place where people have preyed upon the homeless); possible industrial contamination; and what the move says about our dedication to the ten year plan to end homelessness.

The audience (about twenty community members, half a dozen reporters, and one TV camera) huddled together in the freezing concrete space (Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith said at the beginning, "excuse me if my teeth chatter,") to listen to opening remarks by Smith and Michael Ramos, a representative of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. (Ramos served on the citizen review panel charged with making a recommendation about the roving tent city).

The remarks were long on rhetoric and short on details about the new encampment.

Smith and Ramos introduced the plan with an appeal against homelessness.“More and more families are finding themselves living in cars and campers, and despite all of the ways we address low-income housing, the reality is that close to two thousand are living unsheltered and in tents and encampments,” Smith said.

Ramos agreed, but emphasized the work that had already been done. “The city has a stellar record in providing shelter. It is focused goal-wise on ending homelessness," Ramos said.

Ramos also called the Nickelsville relocation an “interim measure,” in order to “help people move forward with their lives. Homelessness is a societal issue that affects us all."

And although most Beacon Hill and Georgetown residents in the crowd agreed that something needs to be done to address this winter’s homeless population, community members had questions that the panel couldn’t answer. Asked about the specifics of what Nickelsville will look like, Deputy Mayor Smith admitted that they have made “No real hard decisions about what should be in the building.” Smith said that they are working on it with an “inter-departmental team around figuring out how the site should work.”

One resident approved of the plan because it gives these homeless folks "a little extra dignity, to be able to take a shower, and provide services," but he questioned the safety of surrounding neighborhoods if the encampment becomes a draw for some less disciplined, more violent homeless persons. "What happens if they don't fit the expectations of the community and they get pushed out [into Beacon Hill or Georgetown]? I haven't heard any good mitigation strategies."

The SPD's response? Lt. Norm James from the West Precinct said that those homeless who are "on drugs or violent don't want to be in this community." And he dismissed the premise of the concern: "It's a misconception that you have. I do believe that it's a misconception on your part that that's going to be an issue."

When one woman asked if the shelter would intensify the already dangerous Jungle (where, she claimed, "ten percent of the homicides that happened in Seattle last year happened," and frequently to the homeless), Deputy Smith dismissed the question.

"To me, these [the Jungle and the proposed encampment] are two separate issues. This is a sanctioned place. Those people really do view themselves as a community."

According to Smith, the city will release a request for proposals  in coming weeks. The plan is for the city to contract with a third party to manage the site and provide social services to residents. Dannette Smith with the Department of Human Services said that they would focus on "life skills, housing, and employment services."

And Deputy Smith promised future transparency: “We will be sharing widely and broadly the development of the details when they’re fully-baked.”

In the interim, Nickelsville has been relocated to old Fire Station 39 in Lake City (a move that sent reporters and community members reeling with short notice and little community outreach).
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