After almost two unsanctioned but unchallenged years at the West Marginal Way/Highland Park Way site where it was founded, the encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” is coming under increasing scrutiny, particularly after its open admission of turmoil last month, first reported here. After again discussing the encampment at its last meeting (WSB coverage here), followed by a letter to the city, the Highland Park Action Committee community council has just sent a formal letter to Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council with a deadline:
To Mayor McGinn, his staff, and members of Seattle City Council,
The Highland Park Action Committee (HPAC) would like to request a move out date for the homeless encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” at 7116 West Marginal Way at the base of Highland Park Drive. HPAC represents the Highland Park and Riverview Neighborhoods in Southwest Seattle. It has come to our attention that it has been difficult for the residence of Nickelsville to keep order in the camp and the management technique used to try to restore order recently included the “Show of Force Team” removing the Porta Potty Service. As the residents of Nickelsville wrote:
“The reason for this decision (to remove the Porta Potty Service) was our inability at Nickelsville in preventing the overrun of our community by meth dealers and barred, violent former campers. Progress was made yesterday, but the situation is still teetering on the brink.”
A new letter has been released from the encampment stating that things are “returning to stability.” The intent of their letter was to express dismay with the Seattle Police for not helping them with security. The Seattle Police are in a bind because the entire encampment is squatting illegally, so they cannot enforce one group’s illegal presence there over another group. The situation at Nickeslville has gotten out of hand, we have noticed a shift in the population from what was originally there, and this has been verified by campers living in Nickelsville. We were surprised, however, at the threatening management technique. As we have continued to hear stories of how the camp is currently being run, we were struck by the realization that there really is no oversight whatsoever for this encampment- it is illegal after all, and we have a lot of concerns with how it’s being managed at this point.
The City’s blind eye / hands off approach has not worked for the residents at the encampment, or for the neighborhood. If the City were running the encampment or had any official presence there, they could help get people the services they need. In fact, the existing management is actually intimidating campers into not seeking help or services, and pressuring residents to not call police so as not to create problems for themselves. Since the police were called in for this most recent incident, it has come out that there have been several violent and angry outbursts that have come from barred campers. These are the campers that are now living in our backyard woods, these are the police reports that are very carefully written without the words “Nickelsville” or “encampment.” Between this recent incident, the management techniques that are coming to light, the recent rat infestation reports from the Health Department, and the flooding tendencies the site presents in the winter months, the conditions at Nickelsville warrant a closure.
Nickelsville has been at its current location for almost 2 years as a “self managed” community. We were asked by Deputy Mayor Smith at a December 7, 2011 Community Meeting if we would like to seek eviction. Although some residents were calling for a forced eviction at that time, we did not feel that we, as a community organization, were comfortable asking for that until there was a place for the residents of Nickelsville to go, and we were told that there were not any. At that point we felt like legislation was just a few months away and a City Sanctioned Encampment with adequate health and safety measures were within reach. We requested more patrols in the greenbelt as a lot of barred campers were ending up there. We were told there were not sufficient resources for that, but if we call in with specific locations they would be cleared. The police have advised us not to use the greenbelt for recreation anymore because campsites can be guarded with aggressive dogs, which make it difficult to call in with specific locations in order to get to use our greenbelt again. We have met with Nick Licata twice since that December 2011 community meeting to discuss the Mayor’s Transitional Encampment Interim Use Amendments, drafted in April of 2012. We understand that Nick Licata has not moved on it for several reason, one being that Share/Wheel and Nickelsville expressed opposition to it at those meetings.
We conducted a survey of our community in August of 2012, 165 people responded. One of the biggest problems that came up was the increase in the number of people living in the greenbelt (such as the barred meth dealers and violent campers Nickelsville alluded to in their letter). The other important piece of the survey was that the majority of people wanted the encampment to move within 6 months. We took the results of that survey, a summary, and all the comments to our meeting with Licata’s office in August of 2012. We sent the results of our survey to Mayor McGinn as well, I just received a reply back from him- 8 months later, it thanked me for my concern.
The City has been ignoring our repeated pleas for political leadership, and our multiple requests for another neighborhood to take a turn hosting the encampment at a more adequate site that does not present such public health risks. We were happy to do our part to help share the responsibility of homelessness with city for a 6 month period of time. The City has disrespected and taken advantage of our neighborhood for long enough by keeping it here for 2 years now. The City is turning a blind eye to the huge public health risks at the encampment and to the threatening management techniques used on its residents, allowing for considerable risk to the campers and to the surrounding neighborhoods. The City has set a dangerous precedent of condoning permanent encampments, without due process from neighbors or community members, to be set up over night in any neighborhood in Seattle. Nickelsville has already written that a priority in finding a new site is that it is available for 2 years- the precedent has now been set for them, thanks to this unwillingness to act on the City’s part. We feel completely stunned at the lack of leadership and the lack of respect for our neighborhood from both the City Council and the Mayor’s Office.
HPAC, as representatives of the Highland Park and Riverview neighborhoods are requesting:
1. a move out date no later than June 13th (1 month after Nickelsville’s May 13th two year anniversary for this site.) We would like for the encampment to be evacuated prior to the swell in population that occurs in the summer months there.
2. at least 1 month notice be given to the campers, and that every measure possible be taken to ensure that each person at the encampment is offered shelter or housing.
3. a commitment to regular sweeps through the greenbelt for the next 8 months with aggressive bag-and-tag operations, and prompt action thereafter to remove any encampments that are reported by the community.
4. This is the second time that HPAC has had to galvanize against the city- the second time the city as forced our fragile community to spend valuable time and energy that communities like ours don’t have, fighting the city. We would like assurance that you will begin to treat Highland Park and Riverview with the same respect that you would for other neighborhoods in Seattle.
Should we not hear a move out date from the City by the encampment’s 2nd Anniversary (May 13th), we will be forced to take action which will include more media, a lot of e-mails and visits to your offices from our community, and legal action. This call for a move out date is independent of the Food Lifeline decision which should be made in the next couple of weeks. Our community does not want to see the encampment at its current location through the summer.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter,
Chair, Highland Park Action Committee
We will be checking on the mayor and council’s response to HPAC’s letter.
11:27 AM P.S. Last night, hours before this letter arrived in the WSB inbox, we received a copy of an open letter from Stauffer’s predecessor as HPAC chair, Dan Mullins. Breaking news kept us from publishing it overnight but you can read it here now.