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Rantz: Homeless man blasts ‘rampant’ drug use at Seattle tiny home village

The tiny house village in Seattle's South Lake Union. (Carolyn Ossorio, KIRO Radio)

A homeless, recovering addict has made explosive claims about “rampant” drug use, an unhealthy living environment, non-existent enforcement of community rules, and a management team that turns a blind eye, all at the controversial South Lake Union tiny home village.

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Daniel Rattelade, a 35-year-old recovering heroin user who has been homeless off and on for about 20 years, detailed his experience at the Lake Union Village in court documents. He says he was offered a number of promises from the two organizations that manage the Village, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and Lifelong, but they weren’t fulfilled.

Declaration of Daniel Rattelade by MyNorthwest on Scribd

“Drug use is rampant at Lake Union Village and so is the selling and exchange of drugs,” Rattelade claimed. “There seemed to be a policy there of tolerating the ‘drug culture.’ My neighbor was selling drugs the whole time she was there. It is hard to believe that the LIHI or Lifelong management of the village did not know this was happening, especially because there were numerous cameras set up throughout the village.”

The allegations surfaced in a declaration filing for an ongoing lawsuit between community group Safe Seattle and both the city of Seattle and LIHI, which disputes the claims. Rattelade originally made the complaints to the village in March of 2019.

Rattelade called the drug use “blatant” and said it was even “common to see blood on the walls and floors of the bathrooms from people shooting up in there.” He said the “toilets were often clogged with foil, needles, and cookers that are part of illegal drug use.”

It’s alleged that village management also enabled the drug use by offering “clean needles to residents to use for illegal drug use.” Rattelade claims “most residents were high on drugs and up all night on meth.” He even said that Lifelong staff would advise residents that “drugs should be taken in a way that is hidden from the public” and suggested using a bathroom mirror if “one is shooting up in the neck.”

LIHI pushes back

Lifelong did not return requests for comment, but a LIHI representative said there is no truth to the allegations.

“You know, a lot of those things were just not true,” Josh Castle, LIHI’s Director of Advocacy & Community Engagement, told The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Castle says LIHI conducts site inspections every week, and couldn’t find evidence to back up the allegations.

“There’s nothing to back up his claims,” Castle said. “I mean, they’re not true. The staff… it’s 24/7 we have full-time case managers and full-time security on site. They do inspection checks… within the village, all around the village…”

These allegations shine a renewed spotlight on the effectiveness of these villages. Rattelade said he wasn’t given meaningful help by social workers who, he says, worked with him just twice over a six month span.

“My quality of life plummeted after coming to Lake Union Village,” Rattelade says in the court document, detailing a neighbor, Jerry, who was “very loud at all hours of the day and night — he screamed, yelled, and broke thing in his house.” He says he complained to staff but “nothing got better.”

The controversy

This site was controversial from its inception. The city of Seattle, via the Human Services Department (HSD), approved the plan without input from the community, only reaching out to impacted neighbors and businesses after they had made their decision. Initially, the city misled the media and neighbors about their plans, but finally acknowledged they’d operate the tiny home village at a community meeting.

One of the points of contention at the meetings, which I attended as an impacted neighbor, was whether or not the village would be low barrier, a term used to describe outfits with fewer limitations on drug use and alcohol consumption. Then-HSD staffer Tiffany Washington insisted it would not be low barrier, but that they also wouldn’t search residents to ensure they didn’t have drugs on them.

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Drug use is apparent, with even LIHI acknowledging the likelihood, though they don’t know how rampant it is.

“It’s a harm reduction model village and what that means is, it allows people that are … being referred to the village by the Navigation Team who are dealing with … serious mental illness, drug addiction issues, those kinds of things,” Castle explained. “We try to eliminate barriers for people so that they could get out of homelessness and into a tiny house village, and then we work with them to help them on the path to recovery, to help them on their path, to treatment and to getting past past any usage.”

Is Rattelade lying when he makes the claims he made? Castle won’t speculate, citing the ongoing litigation.

The reality on the ground

Jason Shackelford is the owner of Stingray Auto Repair, just about seven blocks from the village. In court documents also presented as part of this lawsuit, he complains that “crime and vandalism in the area has skyrocketed” since the introduction of the village.

Declaration of Jason Shackelford by MyNorthwest on Scribd

The business now opens an hour later due to his safety concerns, and says he now finds needles and condoms around his business.

“Most days we have to hose the urine out of our front door way (this was never a problem until this year),” Shackelford declares. “Also affecting us is that we can no longer leave customers’ cars in our own parking lot overnight as they are sure to get broken into.”

I live near the tiny home village; much closer than Shackelford’s business. There has clearly been an increase in homeless people wandering the neighborhood, including one who, on many early mornings, will yell angrily at cars. Employees at local businesses have noticed the increase, as well.

At the nearby Lake Union Park, there are more homeless people sleeping on the grounds. This didn’t happen a year ago with any noticeable regularity.

We’ve also seen a clear increase in tagging, with the tiny home village being tagged itself repeatedly. I have not, however, noticed more trash than usual, nor have I personally seen used needles or condoms around the area.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit is generally unrelated to the allegations made by Rattelade outlined in this story. It aims to shut down the site, arguing the city doesn’t have the proper permits to operate. The city of Seattle expects the case will be dismissed. Last week, a judge heard the city’s Motion for Summary Judgement and a ruling is expected in the coming weeks.

Due to the lawsuit, HSD provided a boilerplate statement that doesn’t address the concerns outlined by Rattelade.

As with all City villages, daily management and operations of these programs are managed by the City’s contractor, LIHI. These programs provide life-saving shelter and case management services for some of Seattle’s most vulnerable residents. Without these types of shelter options, more people would be sleeping on Seattle’s streets and not any closer to finding permanent housing. Lake Union Village has and continues to provide a critical resource in meeting these complex challenges and the Navigation Team will continue referring people to this village.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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