A homeless encampment sweep began at the infamous Dearborn encampment Friday morning, adding another chapter in a contentious spat between campers and former Nickelsville management.
The camp at 1010 South Dearborn Street has been a site for the temporary tent encampment since September 2014, and known as part of the Nickelsville system.
The sweep is part of an ongoing battle between the residents and the former sponsors of the site.
The operator and property owners of the site wrote to Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle council members in February, asking for help in vacating the property. Those operators, the Low Income Housing Institute and the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, allege that campers have not only voted to kick out their representative, Scott Morrow, but have broken from the governing rules of the camp. Those rules are policies establishing no drugs, alcohol, or weapons in the camp.
“They want to run as an independent group. They are calling themselves ‘Occupy Camp Dearborn,'” said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute. “The place has fallen apart. There is evidence of drug activity. There are weapons. People are going in and out intoxicated, and security is not tight.”
Campers were initially given a Feb. 20 deadline to vacate the camp. Some have remained, though, Lee notes that new campers have come into the camp unaware that it was slated to be shut down. The Low Income Housing Institute brought in vans to move willing campers to other sites it operates.
Campers allege a very different story than Nickelsville management. They say that Morrow ran the camp like a mob boss and commonly abused and threatened campers and that is what led to their decision to oust him from the camp — not a desire to have a drug- and theft-filled campsite.
Ever since campers voted to secede from Nickelsville, the non-profit Patacara has stepped in as a new sponsor with the intention of finding a new religious sponsor and a new plot of land where the camp can move. She has told the campers to move to other Nickelsville sites if they feel they can tolerate Morrow until a new site is found.
Polly Trout, executive director of Patacara, said that a few religious sponsors are vetting the camp.
She said she had been working with Seattle police and campers to assist with an organized exit from the Dearborn site. She said that police officials assured her that they would be sweeping the camp on Monday, March 14 – the week after they actually swept on Friday. Based on that information, Trout arranged for a moving truck to come March 12 and move campers out. She was surprised to hear that the camp was swept on Friday.
“If we just got our act together and stopped playing politics, we could have an indoor bed for every homeless person that wants one by Christmas, without having to separate families or separate people from their pets,” Trout said.
“Camps should be an emergency measure now while we work hard to get everyone inside,” she said. “This can be done, but only if we start approaching the problem with courage and self sacrifice. If we could fix homelessness by playing it safe, the crisis would already be resolved.”
Information from KIRO 7 was included in this article.