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Defying NIMBY, some Seattle residents are hosting homeless in backyards

A homeless encampment under I-90 in Seattle. (KIRO 7 TV)

The phrase “Not in my backyard” is often applied to all sorts of forms of community sacrifice and environmentalism, but a few Seattle residents seem to be bucking the trend by actually allowing homeless people to live in their backyards. A few Seattleities, anyway.

The BLOCK Project is a nonprofit that helps Seattle homeless find a place to live in the backyard of someone who is open to the idea, doing so in a way so that they fit with each other. Similar projects have been explored in Los Angeles, Denver and Portland, reports The Seattle Times.

“And they’re off the grid. The thing (homeless housing unit) is solar, the water is recycled, they’re not hooked into anyone’s maintenance,” KIRO Radio’s John Curley noted. “The only thing you pay for would be to help with garbage out of that thing, so it would go into your can. The rest of time it’s in the backyard passively there, and you’ve got a homeless person living in it.”

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While 130 families have expressed interest in hosting a homeless person in their backyard, only eight of them have had these houses installed, with merely half of those currently hosting a homeless person.

“The reason they’re going so slowly is because they realize they cannot afford a single mistake, and so they are very careful,” said co-host Tom Tangney. “They take care of everything. They find the homeless person, they vet the homeless person. Then you meet the homeless person. You then vet the homeless person yourself. You decide if you’re a good match or not, and vice versa.”

BLOCK hopes to build about six to 12 homes next year, which cost on average between $35,000 and $100,000, with much of the materials and labor being donated. Those with violent or sex offenses in their background cannot participate in the program.

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Tom has considered doing this kind of thing, but worries about neighbors’ reactions.

“We’ve seriously considered something like this. And I think the biggest concern would be how the neighbors would react, because the thing is: it’s one thing for us to take on that responsibility,” Tom said. “But you realize living in Seattle is that they’re pretty tightly packed homes, and so it would impact others. But yes, I think this is definitely appealing.”

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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