by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
In late 2013, a trend of new homeless camps on the border of the Central District and Capitol Hill began. In the past week, one of three new camps attempted to break away from the rules structure governing the tent cities and, as a result, was evicted. Another camp’s site is slated for an affordable housing development, but it and another, smaller camp may remain in place until September. This is the first time that a major outdoor homeless shelter has been in the Capitol Hill/CD region since the original “Nickelsville” days of the early 2000s.
Seattle and King County have attempted to host tent cities for the homeless for much of the past decade. Seattle’s first tent cities of the era came about in the 1990s, known largely by the simple monikers, Tent City 1 and Tent City 2. These camps were illegal, and mostly saw opposition from the city government; both were evicted by police at the end of the decade.
It was an effort by a non-profit organization called Seattle Housing and Resource Effort and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (better known as SHARE/WHEEL) that made Seattle and eastern King County’s first legal tent cities. The earliest and longest-lived, Tent City 3, was established in 2002 on the authority of a consent decree signed by Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr. The consent decree allowed for the creation of tent cities in Seattle, but only on private property with the permission of the property’s owner and only if the camp abides by certain rules. Most of those rules involve a zero-tolerance policy for illegal behavior, though they also extend to include a prohibition of alcohol use or possession.
Part of the city’s plan for consent decree camps is a system of rotation throughout the Greater Seattle area. Camps have existed in First Hill, the University District, West Seattle, South Seattle and satellite camp in eastern King County called Tent City 4, which has difficulty moving like the main Seattle camps. Still, Tent City 4 has had 16 different locations since it was established in 2004.
This initial period of legal tent cities in Seattle occurred during the tenure of Mayor Greg Nickels. Homeless rights advocates like the writers and editors of Real Change Newspaper spoke out against evictions of other homeless camps around the city, and frequent police involvement in the legal camp during the Nickels administration, dubbing the new, legal camp as “Nickelsville” in reference to the tent cities that emerged during the Depression-era administration of President Herbert Hoover, called “Hooverville” camps.
Tent City 3 had been located in West Seattle for approximately five years before the city evicted it for rotation to the Central District last year, splitting into two camps and eventually making room for a third. Those camps set up at 22nd Avenue and Cherry Street, 22nd Avenue and Union Street, and 20th Avenue and Jackson Street. The Cherry Street camp faced being forced to move by the lot’s owner, Cherry Hill Baptist Church, who only authorized the camp to remain until February, 2014. The camp responded by attempting to declare independence from the long-standing rules of the 2002 consent decree. As a result, the camp was evicted this week.
There is no word yet on whether this break-away attempt and subsequent eviction will determine if the camp’s group will have the option to move to another nearby location. Spokespeople for the group briefly mentioned moving to a lot in Capitol Hill that’s near 15th Avenue and Spring Street, but there are no concrete plans for such a development at this time.
The 20th and Jackson camp, supported by Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, currently has around 35 residents of various ages. An organization called the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) announced its plan last month to move its offices from the current location in downtown Seattle to a new site at 2020 South Jackson Street, the lot of the camp. The new development will also include 60 low-income housing units for people making 60 percent of the median income in King County. Sharon Lee of LIHI confirmed the plans and indicated that the camp intends to relocate nearby, saying, “They will be looking for a new site later in 2014 to provide shelter for up to 35 men, women and children.”