Ballard Chamber, City of Seattle at odds over homeless alternatives

Oct 15, 2015, 8:55 PM | Updated: Oct 16, 2015, 6:25 am
The site at 2826 NW Market Street is owned by Seattle City Light and is being converted into a home...
The site at 2826 NW Market Street is owned by Seattle City Light and is being converted into a homeless encampment in Ballard. (Kipp Robertson /MyNorthwest)
(Kipp Robertson /MyNorthwest)

The Ballard Chamber of Commerce is calling the City of Seattle’s plans for its neighborhood “disappointing,” after it failed to reach a compromise over a controversial homeless camp.

The city, however, isn’t entirely turning its back on the chamber’s idea. It just needs more time to make it work.

“Despite efforts made by the chamber and the community to champion a viable alternative site location in Ballard, the decision yesterday by Mayor Ed Murray and Council Member Mike O’Brien to move forward with Nickelsville’s plan to sire a homeless encampment at 2826 NW Market Street is disappointing,” a statement from the Ballard Chamber of Commerce states.

“The Ballard Chamber remains strongly opposed to the use of the Market Street site as a homeless encampment,” it continues.

Related: UW students want to make Ballard homeless camp more than a place to pitch a tent

The city has moved forward with plans to establish homeless encampments within the city, including the site in Ballard. Some local residents and business owners have voiced opposition to the plan.

The Ballard Chamber of Commerce responded by developing plans and partnerships for an alternative site. Its alternative would work with a private party in Ballard to establish an encampment, but one that was larger and could accommodate more homeless individuals. The chamber claims that Nickelsville, the organization partnering with the city on its project, actually preferred the chamber’s location.

Related: Seattle can’t cure its homeless issue with tent cities

“Let’s be clear: a viable alternative location in Ballard has been identified and could be available for use in the coming months,” the chamber announcement states. “Rather than move to Market Street, the city could have directed Nickelsville to first locate at a larger, city-authorized Sodo encampment site and then transition to the [chamber’s] alternative Ballard site as soon as it is available. Instead, the city has chosen to disregard this option and is moving forward with opening the Market Street site.”

The chamber argues that even Nickelsville preferred its alternative, because it would house even more homeless individuals. It further claims that it would not cost taxpayer dollars, because no rental fees would have to be paid to Seattle City Light.

But the city may sees things differently. In a letter signed by Mayor Ed Murray and Council member Mike O’Brien, the two officials claim to have been working with the Ballard community, and did consider the alternative site &#8212 six alternatives in fact &#8212 but could not find them fit for use.

“… After a thorough analysis, we have determined that the sites were either not available for encampment or did not meet code requirements,” the letter states, further noting that the city wishes to have a site up and running as soon as possible as winter is coming.

That winter deadline has the city rushing to get the encampment up and running. Despite getting its Market Street camp ready for the cold months ahead, it hasn’t turned down one of the chamber’s ideas, entirely.

The city is still considering the one potential alternative in Ballard that the chamber backs. But there is action the city would have to take, legislatively, to make the sites work. And that takes time; more time than the city has.

“However, for it to work, this location will require the city to address a number of outstanding legislative, environmental, and safety issues first,” said Michael Fong, the Mayor’s chief of staff. “This will take months to complete. Until those issues are resolved, the city will move forward with the process to stand up the Market Street site.”

In the meantime, the city will move into the Market Street site.

“… it is vital that we provide those experiencing homelessness with safe, secure places to stay as soon as possible,” the letter states. “Due to the great need in our streets, we will move forward with siting an encampment at the Market Street location. We know that some members of the community have expressed concerns about the use of the Market Street site, but we ask for support to the people who will be living there.”

The letter continues to note that the encampments are not permanent solutions to Seattle’s “growing crisis,” but the city intends to use them as points of contact for those experiencing homelessness to provide further services and help to exit homelessness.

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Ballard Chamber, City of Seattle at odds over homeless alternatives