By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two months gone since the vote, eight days to go, until the deadline city leaders set for closing the West Seattle site to which the encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” returned two years ago.
On Friday, we reported on the Westside Interfaith Network‘s plan to hold nightly vigils for a week, from tomorrow through next Saturday (August 31st) – not to demand that the encampment be allowed to stay open, but simply, WIN’s Mary Anne deVry says, to remind the greater community that homelessness remains an unsolved problem.
After publishing that story, we talked with Terry Pallas from Union Gospel Mission, which has an agreement with the city to find housing and services for Nickelsville “campers” with the money (up to $500,000) that City Councilmembers voted in June to spend.
How is it being spent?
As we noted in an update to yesterday’s story, first thing Pallas wanted us to know was the updated number for how many people they had relocated. As of Friday – 47, he said, eight through “travelers’ aid,” which means they were moving to another town or state to move in with family members, and Pallas said, “We’ve been able to verify that through case management.” Among them, he says – a couple and their 11-year-old son who have just moved back to Texas to be with family.
The other 39 people have moved to transitional apartments or gone into facilities to get assistance with addiction recovery or domestic-violence safe housing, according to Pallas. They have leased 20 apartments in private buildings, he says, with UGM signing corporate leases and guaranteeing the rent for up to a year via the city funding, and the residents have case managers: “The goal is, we’re trying to qualify folks to sign onto a lease of their own within a year.” The apartments are fully furnished, with donations to UGM comprising much if not all of the furnishings. And as the residents start getting on their feet, it’s hoped they’ll be paying “some program fees on a sliding scale,” says Pallas, and that will all go back into the fund that started with the city’s half-million dollars: “We’re trying to make that stretch as far as possible.”
The relationship between Nickelsville itself and the UGM is not formal, and camp residents are not required to check it out. So, we asked, given that, how does it work?
Pallas says a “case-management team of three full-time Union Gospel Mission employees (is) specifically assigned to Nickelsville” and works from a tent set up at the encampment, doing assessments. Those assessments, he says, include determination of “what major obstacles in their life – mental health, addiction, legal barriers – have kept them from qualifying for housing.” He notes that there’s “been a lot of legal need down there,” and so they’ve brought in the UGM legal team, another resource the organization has added to try to make this work. Overall, they are following “the same model (in which) we do a lot of things – ‘doing it with, instead of doing it to’ – we sit down side by side and figure out how we can (work) together.”
So far, he adds, they have met with 26 people who “self-identify that they are in active addiction -heroin, crack, meth.”
And yet, with 47 “relocations,” the population of Nickelsville is larger than it was when UGM was brought in. Maybe 80, 90 people then, 125-150 now, Pallas says. “Every time our case-management team moves somebody else out, there’s somebody else there that takes their place.” He says it was a flaw from the start – “without closing the front door, it’s impossible to reduce the number.”
So is there some way this could have worked better?
First, he stresses that relocating 47 people is “significant.” And “while … we haven’t been able to get everybody into a housing option, I think it has proved to be a good model – we have been able to house families, we have been able to house same-sex (couples), married, non-married (people), all across the board, we have been able to serve a lot of the demographic that’s in Nickelsville. … Two months is a very short amount of time for that many folks (to be relocated), so we feel like the 47 that have been served and moved on is a great success and it’s just the beginning – we feel the model itself is working well.”
But time – at least, time on the clock started by elected officials in June – is running out. As noted in our Friday story, the mayor’s office won’t speculate on what’ll happen September 1st, one week from tomorrow, if Nickelsville hasn’t emptied, either by a sudden wave of relocations or by finding new sites. The encampment’s Central Committee said yesterday via Facebook that the latter is a likelihood:
… We are working hard to get ready to move on the first of September.
We will be moving to three sites, two of which are ready to go. If a third site doesn’t come through we will have to stand our ground at Nickelsville. Please remember that we could really use your help, both in moving or simply standing in support. …
More to come in our Sunday report. Our prior coverage of the encampment – dating all the way back to its founding at the same West Seattle site five years ago – is archived here, newest-to-oldest.