As Seattle plans new tiny house encampments, village marks first year in the Central District

In early 2017, more than 200 people can expect to find shelter at two new “tiny house villages” and one new tent encampments in Seattle. They’ll have neighbors, of sorts, in one of the city’s first villages that opened a year ago in the Central District.

The Human Services Department announced the new encampments for the homeless last week as part of the Bridging the Gap plan launched in October to address immediate needs.

Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, which sponsors and provides case management at one tent encampment and three tiny home sites, including the village on 22nd Ave at E Union, lauds the announcement. “I think having tiny houses is far superior to having tents,” she said.

Since it opened in January 2016, the organization’s 14 tiny homes at E Union and 22nd have housed families, single people, and couples in search of permanent homes.

Case managers work with everyone at the Tiny House Village to get them into housing and help them find jobs, and turnover is frequent.

“We don’t want people seeing it as a longterm thing or a dead end,” Lee said.

The community surrounding the E Union village has been supportive with donations, and the property owner, the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, hosted the tiny house village for Thanksgiving, Lee said.

LIHI is also involved at tiny house sites in Ballard and Othello and sponsors a tent encampment in Interbay. Nickelsville manages all of the tiny homes sites. Othello was the first to open in March 2015.

The community is self managed and residents hold meetings to work on the management of the camp.  Decisions are made democratically giving members a voice. Community members are also involved in their own recycling and composting in an effort to be an “eco-village,” Tatiyana Hampton, a coordinator at the Central District site, said. The village also helps tenants save money and eventually move into standard housing as residents only pay a small amount for utilities and rent can be paid by working security shifts and participation credits.

Volunteers say the model is working though more funding could be useful to increase staff for the project and there are hiccups like an issue with hot water making it to the kitchen tent.

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

What LIHI really needs, Lee said is donations to build more tiny homes — both materials and people’s time to construct the homes.

Each house costs roughly $2,200 in materials, are wired for electricity. One requirement was that the houses be moveable in case of a need to move the community or redeploy one of the units elsewhere. A bathroom pavilion, a kitchen tent, and showers were also part of the village plans.

LIHI is also looking for more sites in the city to construct tiny house villages to temporarily shelter members of the growing homeless population.

“We’re hoping that we can move people into housing more quickly, but the housing situation is getting worse,” Lee said.

With winter weather already chilling Seattle, Lee said if churches or private owners opened up unused space for homeless people to get warm, that would also be helpful.

The two new tiny house villages — 1000 S Myrtle Street and 8620 Nesbit Avenue North — will have a maximum of 50 tiny homes to each to house 60 to 70 people. The encampment at 9701 Myers Way South will have up to 50 tents to serve 60 to 70 people.

“We remain committed to our long-term plan to transform our homeless services system and focus our investments on getting people off the streets and into housing,” Catherine Lester, director of the Human Services Department said in the announcement of the new plan. “In the meantime, we will continue the work of increasing our outreach efforts, implementing a more compassionate set of protocols when cleanups are necessary and offering trash and needle pick up services.”

Bridging the Gap allows unauthorized encampments to stay put as long as there’s no health or safety risk and they aren’t an obstruction to public use until the city can offer safer places for homeless people in the encampments to live.

The city is also working to fully implement its long-term plan, Pathways Home, which focuses on getting people into stable housing.

At the 22nd ave village, there are also smaller ways to help. The residents need goods like batteries, scarves, mittens, socks and kitchen supplies. You can learn more and arrange to make donations at nickelsvilleworks.org.

Or for an even easier — though less direct route — you can buy a “Tiny House” pack of pre-rolled joints at your favorite local marijuana shop. $3 from each $23 pack goes to the LIHI to build tiny houses. UPDATE: An Uncle Ike’s rep tells us they’re also raising funds to build their own tiny houses:

Solstice and Uncle Ike’s are each contributing an additional 50 cents per pack sold and using that money to buy materials and build tiny houses ourselves. So for every 5000 or so packs sold, we’ll be able to build two tiny houses! This is in addition to the $3 donated from each pack. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Sumedha Majumdar contributed to this report

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