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Licton Springs
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SHARE/WHEEL cuts out early on tiny house village as city pulls plug

(Matt Pitman)

After initially running day-to-day operations at the controversial Licton Springs tiny village, SHARE/WHEEL is now pulling out of its agreement to run the village through its scheduled closure in March.

Last month, the City of Seattle announced that it was closing Licton Springs when its permit expires in March. The reason? There weren’t enough people being moved into permanent housing and they were staying in the village too long, more than a year in many cases.

RELATED: Seattle to close controversial tiny house encampment

Licton Springs has had the distinction of being the city’s only low barrier tiny house village, where residents have been allowed to drink alcohol and use drugs.

The city’s Human Services Department said it would do all it could over the remaining five months to get villagers into housing, so they didn’t end up back on the streets.

To help with that, they added more case management — which will now be a requirement for people staying at all villages — and shifted control of the day-to-day operations to the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the affordable housing non-profit that owns the property the Licton Springs village is on. The day-to-day operations had been managed by SHARE/WHEEL, a homeless advocate non-profit that operates several tent cities.

Under the city’s village closing plan, SHARE/WHEEL was to stay on until March when the village closes, but with LIHI taking over more control.

SHARE staffer Charles Johnson says that’s created a toxic power dynamic that is harmful to the both the villagers and SHARE staffers, so its ending its work at the village next Monday. “It seems abrupt but this has been coming for quite a while based on the behavior and our partners (the city and LIHI). Conditions now under which we would have to work are untenable,” Johnson said.

“How healthy would it be for the residents if there’s a tension and a conflict on the ground between us and LIHI? We have very different decision making processes and views of how human beings should be treated,” Johnson added.

Johnson disagrees with the city’s assessment that they haven’t moved enough people into housing, and says it takes time to help people at this particular village.

“By all measures internally the residents are stable, they don’t want to move out on the street again. They will accept housing as it becomes available or as it’s appropriate. Some of them are seriously, seriously mentally ill you know, you can barely get them to talk except if you put in a lot of time and get them to trust someone. Some of them just aren’t housing ready until they’ve been in a place like this for a while,” Johnson said.

On top of that he says the city and LIHI never followed through on funding and case management that was expected from the start, when the village opened more than a year ago.

“We never went at this as a blame game, we just, now we’re reacting to being scapegoated. Having somebody shame the villagers and the staff because of a lack of housing exits? Which, by the way, were as good as or better than other sites, and by the dollar we operate on a fraction of the budget of the Nav Center and our rates are I’m sure as good as theirs – even without meaningful case work,” Johnson said.

Licton Springs has been controversial from the get-go, thanks to its low barrier policy allowing the consumption of drugs and alcohol. It’s been opened for along a year and a half along Aurora Avenue, and quickly created an outcry about increased crime in the area that many blamed on the villagers and their drug use.

Johnson insists that is not true, and says SHARE and the village have been wrongly labeled a failed experiment.

On the flip side, LIHI tells The Seattle Times SHARE’s early exit is a good thing, accusing SHARE leadership of often getting in the way of getting people into housing, and even discouraging it in some cases.

The city meantime stands by its decision and says LIHI is ready to take over full operations now that SHARE is ending its agreement early.

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