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Homelessness, affordability, and COVID-19 — Safety amid Seattle’s crises at the new tiny house village in the Central District

With reporting by Alex Garland

A new “tiny house village” has opened in the Central District adding 30 new homes to a city trying to snuff out the COVID-19 outbreak even as homelessness and affordability issues only grow.

King County health officials, meanwhile, are concerned about a rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases among homeless people and workers at its shelters and and service sites. The county said Monday it has confirmed 112 cases at its sites — up from 27 confirmed cases on April 7th. The totals include two confirmed deaths and a third death being investigated at King County’s Kent isolation and quarantine facility.

The community around 22nd and Cherry is not new to hosting Seattle’s homeless neighbors.

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In 2018, CHS reported on Tent City Three’s move to the lot across from the former location of the Cherry Hill Baptist Church. The church has been demolished, but thanks to the leadership and congregation now moved to the Christ Spirit Church on Beacon Hill, the Low Income Housing Institute, and a declaration of civil emergency from the City of Seattle, they are once again housing a new community of Central District residents.

Focused on Native American, Alaskan Native, and Black members of Seattle’s homeless community, “TC Squared” will house 30 to 35 of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. According to Pastor Willie Seals Jr. they have access to the property for “over a year.” Seals tells CHS, “I think it’s exceptional, it makes a statement as it relates to the community, that every aspect of the community can work together…churches, city governments, and other non profits. It shows a collaborative effort, especially with the coronavirus, it shows the totality of humanity coming together.”

The funding made available by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Declaration of Civil Emergency “allowed the city to fast track things that normally would take a lot longer with the bureaucratic process,” said Josh Castle of LIHI. While most Tiny House villages take three to four months to set up, the declaration allowed permitting to move through the process quickly. According to Castle, this site, TCSquared Village, and two others — an expansion at Lake Union Village and an enhanced shelter in North Seattle — were set up “in under a month.”

The process was slower when they started four years ago, Castle says, “When we were first learning how to do this, it took us a little longer, but now we have our game plan,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that with all of our community partners, the organizations, faith communities, businesses, and others that we work with. It takes all the organizations coming together to make this possible, all these volunteers who paint, do carpentry, do landscaping, do all sorts of random projects to set them up. Now we can do it basically under a month.”

LIHI has now figured out an efficient process for the layout, design, and construction of tiny house villages, but delays remain in city bureaucracy.

“It shouldn’t take an emergency declaration, it shouldn’t take COVID-19 outbreak to recognize we have an issue around homelessness and that we should be able to get people off the streets as quickly as possible,” Castle said.

LIHI says the tiny house villages have transitioned 53% of their residents into longterm housing.

City officials are trying to do more to also help those who are under sheltered or living on the streets. The Seattle Public Library’s branches remain shuttered but the city is reopening bathrooms at five locations including the Capitol Hill library.

The restrooms at the following Library locations will be open 10 AM to 6 PM daily:

  • Ballard Branch, 5614 22nd Ave. N.W. (Opening Thursday, April 23)
  • Beacon Hill Branch, 2821 Beacon Ave. S. (Opening Thursday, April 23) 
  • University Branch, 5009 Roosevelt Way N.E (Opening Thursday, April 23)
  • Capitol Hill Branch, 425 Harvard Ave. E. (Opening Monday, April 27)
  • Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave. (Opening Monday, April 27)

“No other services will be offered in those buildings when the restrooms are open. Locations will be staffed with security personnel, custodial workers, and libraries staff,” the city says:

To help prevent further spread of COVID-19, Library branches will employ social distancing protocols, ask patrons to complete a brief COVID-19 health screener prior to entering the building, and will limit the number of individuals permitted in the building for restroom use at a time. The restrooms will be regularly cleaned in accordance with guidance from Public Health – Seattle & King County.

CHS reported previously on the city opening a set of “comfort stations” across Seattle including at Cal Anderson to help provide more sanitary conditions and slow the spread of COVID-19 and a hepatitis outbreak in the city.

Back on E Cherry, In the time of COVID-19, social distancing is the new normal, and the tiny house villages are no different. Strict protocols around social distancing and hygiene are a part of the intake process, and people are being provided with face masks and asked to wear them.

Having a locked door and a place to feel safe is important for new resident Lola Najera. “They moved me in this morning. I’m just overwhelmed. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s even painted blue. Blue is a calming color. It’s so wonderful the feeling when you walk in. The most important thing to me, was that I had a door that locks and a window that gives me light, but I’m safe. That’s what means a lot to me, my safety.”


More coverage…

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