Nickelsville allegedly coerced residents into participating in political rallies

Apr 9, 2019, 10:24 AM | Updated: 10:12 pm

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A line of tiny houses stand with their backs to the adjacent street at a homeless encampment in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

A whistleblower in a leadership position at Nickelsville is accusing organizer Scott Morrow of coercing residents of the organization’s tiny home villages into participating in political rallies.

RELATED: LIHI, Nickelsville split over Seattle homeless camp management

Naming herself simply as Jane, the whistleblower claims that Morrow required homeless residents to participate in activism, demonstrations, and political rallies “as a condition for housing.” That, she alleges, was labeled as “PC,” or “participation credit” by Nickelsville.

One of those rallies was in support of Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s recent push back against Mayor Durkan’s nomination of interim Human Services Director Jason Johnson.

For many other rallies, one resident notes that Nickelsville participants were recruited merely to fill out crowds.

“We really don’t even know what it’s about [or] what’s going on — (Morrow) just wants the numbers and we’re there,” a resident told KIRO Radio.

That same resident said she even lost a job after being pressured by Morrow to participate in activism rather than working.

“I’m not the only he has done that to,” she claimed.

These allegations all come on the tail end of what’s been a tumultuous saga for the relationship between Nickelsville and the Low Income Housing Institute.

LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee wrote to Nickelsville leaders on March 20 that it was ending its five-year relationship with the group, citing “fundamental differences in our organizations’ approaches and aspirations.”

“Everything Sharon Lee has said, every accusation she has put out there to the public, is 100 percent accurate. It’s 100 percent the truth,” a resident said.

Lee claimed that Nickelsville — a nonprofit that runs three tiny home villages in Seattle — was encouraging its members not to seek permanent housing.

Shortly after LIHI announced the split, padlocks appeared on the gates of all three villages to keep police, city employees, and LIHI staff (excepting some case managers) out. According to Jane, that came at the instruction of Morrow himself.

She goes on to accuse Morrow and Nickelsville of discouraging residents from meeting with case managers. The reasoning behind that comes back to the alleged use of residents for political activism.

RELATED: Seattle sweeps Nickelsville encampment

“Nickelsville is sort of cult-like, because they have people dedicated to working full-time as activists, and if we move them into housing, then they lose their base,” said Jane. “The more people we move into housing, the fewer people are there that will continue to be 100 percent loyal to Scott Morrow.”

On Monday, members of Community Advisory Councils for tiny home villages in Othello and Northlake sent a letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and city council, threatening to resign if LIHI didn’t return to the table to negotiate with Nickelsville.

In the wake of the LIHI/Nickelsville split, the city’s Human Services Department has made it clear that residents of tiny home villages run by Nickelsville in Othello, Northlake, and Georgetown will not be forced to leave. HSD also noted that LIHI will be assuming control over the day-to-day operations.

“LIHI will no longer be funding the salaries of Nickelsville staff on March 20,” a recent letter to Northlake residents from Lee reads. LIHI “oversight and facilitation of self-management” for the villages was set to take effect March 28. As of publishing, LIHI staff have only been able to get in to the Othello village.

Morrow has not yet responded to requests to comment.

MyNorthwest staff contributed to this report

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