Non-profit managing tiny-home village pulls out prior to permit expiration

SEATTLE -- The non-profit, Share/Wheel, that runs a tiny-home village in North Seattle has told the city it’s pulling out five months before the camp’s permit expires.

Called Licton Springs, the tiny home village off Aurora Avenue is known as a low-barrier shelter – meaning residents are allowed to use drugs or alcohol while they work with case managers on a path to temporary housing.

While some of the residents there eventually move out to other housing options city officials say that doesn’t happen often enough.

The permit expires in March 2019 and the city says another non-profit, the Low Income Housing Institute, will take over management of the village until next march.

When that time comes the city says they aren’t looking at reopening Licton Springs but are looking for other permanent housing options across the city. Share/Wheel warns uprooting the vulnerable population at the tiny village could backfire for the city.

It’s moving day for Lilli Cox and her two dogs. They are moving out and on to other transitional housing.

“They did a really good job with us,” she said. “When we all first got here we were street, you know.”

Cox and the dozens of other people living in the camp say the low-barrier model, which allows residents to use drugs and alcohol, helps ween them from their addictions and teaches how to thrive in a community with a common goal.

“To face their addiction to be responsible for it and to be accepted and still get respect,” she said. “That’s one thing that is taken from us, so it gave us dignity.”

“If you rush that process and they blow out then you’ve lost all that investment,” said Charlie Johnson with Share/Wheel.

Johnson says the city has chosen to not renew the camp’s permit because campers aren’t moving out fast enough. He warns pushing clients before they’re ready could backfire against the city’s goal to bring more people off the street.

“A lot of the clients here it takes months of them living among their peers and gentle authority figures in staff to build trust and even think about what that next step might be,” he said.

Meanwhile, neighbors around the village have complained rising crime rates are directly related to the camp’s nearly 2-year-long history.

The city says it will expand case management services in next year’s budget and expand other tiny home village programs.

But, Cox says this program worked for her and now her decade-long life on the streets is about to come to an end. She hopes the city learns from the success she found here.

“I wasn’t expecting for myself to change but I did,” she said.

City officials say tiny villages are intended as short-term solutions and nearly half of the people living there have been residents for more than a year. The city also says case managers will do everything they can to ensure anyone displaced don’t simply return to the streets.