Council Suggests Alternatives to Sunny Jim Homeless Encampment

By Erica C. Barnett April 18, 2011

As we reported they would back in March, the city council introduced a resolution today to consider alternatives to a "semipermanent" homeless encampment in SoDo proposed by Mayor Mike McGinn.

McGinn proposed creating a new tent encampment on the site of the 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. Although the council could have chosen to approve the site, that move wouldn't have had any practical effect, because the city still needs to complete an environmental review of the area under state environmental law. Additionally, the proposal is certain to be challenged by neighbors in court.

The nonbinding resolution the council introduced today says that the council will look at several alternatives to the Sunny Jim site, including converting Fire Station 39 in Lake City, where the Nickelsville encampment is currently located, to a long-term shelter; working with churches to support shelter space in church buildings or parking lots; buying a motel and converting it to transitional housing; and locating the tent encampment on one of the sites that were recommended by the city in the first place. (The legislation also calls for increasing the number of rent vouchers the city gives out, but that provision is already part of the city's existing housing levy.)

Environmental remediation at the Sunny Jim site would cost the city an estimated $300,000.

On Seattle Channel's "City Inside/Out" this week, city council member Sally Clark said she worried that establishing a permanent tent encampment would say that "tents are our new standard of service, our new standard of acceptable provision of housing. That, to me, is a very serious policy decision to make."
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