Seattle considers "homeless camp" proposal of SHARE/WHEEL fwd

Tom Boland (
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 21:28:39 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  Seattle Times: Local News - Wed, 17 Mar 1999 21:30:14 GMT


Linda Keene - Seattle Times staff reporter

    A large outdoor encampment with tents, domes or yurts is one of several
proposals the city of Seattle is considering under Mayor Paul Schell's
stepped-up efforts to house homeless people.

     Deputy Mayor Tom Byers said an encampment would be "very seriously"
studied to address a homeless population that has grown to about 5,000
people and costs the city $8 million a year in services.

     The encampment is being proposed by SHARE/WHEEL, homeless people who
run several shelters throughout Seattle. They envision a self-managed tent
city, with garbage and other sanitation services included on a flat 1-acre
site. The groups - Seattle Housing and Research Effort (SHARE) and the
Women's Housing Equality Enhancement League (WHEEL) - have identified empty
lots in the Cascade neighborhood, in industrial South Seattle and at the
site of the former Hat  'N Boots gas station on East Marginal Way South.

     The sites are speculative, and any permanent location would be
contingent on community support and a comprehensive look at neighborhood
impacts. The plan was prepared by Environmental Works Community Design
Center, a nonprofit group that specializes in architectural work.

     "We have enormous respect for SHARE and Environmental Works," said
Byers. "So we will take it very seriously. These kinds of proposals are
fraught with great difficulty, but we'll take an honest look at it."

     That's a significant departure. Historically, Seattle has not
tolerated encampments. In the 1930s, for example, about 1,000 homeless men
lived in a shantytown  near where the Kingdome now stands. Twice the city
burned it.  Twice its residents rebuilt it.

     Although former Mayor Norm Rice committed millions of dollars to
homeless programs, he also opposed encampments. In 1994 his administration
demolished one, "The Jungle," on the lower slopes of Beacon Hill.

     Schell has made homelessness a more visible priority. Last June, in
one of his first major initiatives as mayor, Schell pledged to get women
and families off the streets before Christmas. As part of that $500,000
plan, he added more emergency beds to the city's Winter Response Shelters,
bringing the total to more than 300.

     At the end of this month, those beds will be eliminated, as they are
each spring. But Schell's administration and City Councilman Peter
Steinbrueck are trying to find some replacement shelters. Steinbrueck is
chairman of the council's Housing, Human Services and Civil Rights

     They have already identified funds to keep a 20-bed shelter for women
open at St. Mark's  Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill. And they might
keep the downtown Municipal Building open at night all year for older
homeless men.

     During a meeting yesterday at City Hall with homeless advocates,
Steinbrueck stressed his commitment to ending homelessness: "I deeply
regret we will see the loss of 336 shelter beds by the end of this month.
It's a perennial problem."

     Byers, who also attended the meeting, said the problem is so difficult
to handle that "a little bit of fatigue is setting in."

     "We're trying to put the will back into the community to address this
problem," he said.

     With that in mind, Schell's administration has created priorities for
different homeless populations. Having boosted help for women and children,
the city will now target frail or elderly men and homeless teens.

     The city's motto is, "In the new millennium, no one has the street as
their home."


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