Seattle City Council: No more homeless encampments

SEATTLE -- With just a month to go before the Nickelsville homeless encampment is shut down in south Seattle, the City Council on Monday closed the door to more tent cities in the future.

In a big blow to the homeless, a majority of the council argued that encampments are the wrong approach to helping those on the streets.

“It makes me very sad to know that -- that this failed,” said Susan Russell, who lived on the streets after losing her job due to an automobile accident. "Being out on the street, outside of an encampment, is very dangerous.  I’ve been there, I’ve done it.  I don’t wish it upon anyone.”

At issue Monday was a plan that would have allowed highly regulated and pre-approved homeless tent cities on private properties, so long as they weren’t in residential areas.  (They are already allowed on church property.)

Nickelsville, located along West Marginal Way, is an unsanctioned encampment that has been the source of some problems for the surrounding community

Monday’s debate basically came down to this: Are tent cities just an unsafe and unsanitary solution that perpetuates living on the streets, or are they a necessary for a homeless population that far outpaces the city’s resources?

“Having a safe encampment is way better than leaving people on the street,” City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw said.  “Being in an encampment, as contrasted with living under the viaduct, is substantially the better way to go.”

But a majority of the council argued that encampments are not the solution.

“We have been trying stopgap measures since I’ve been on the City Council, and they don’t work,” Councilman Tom Rasmussen said.  “Allowing more encampments ignores history.  It’s a failed, counter-productive reaction today to Nickelsville.”

There were a lot of disappointed homeless and homeless advocates at City Hall after the vote.  They’ve pushed the expansion of encampments, not as a permanent solution, but as way of giving those at Nickelsville and others at least another option.

“There are many that have jobs and are well-educated that are homeless today and they should never have to live on the street,” said Russell.  “The encampments are necessary.”

Earlier this summer, the City Council voted to provide $500,000 help for residents of Nickelsville to secure services and temporary housing at Union Gospel Mission.