The Interbay camp, operated by the collective Share/Wheel, is expected to accommodate 80 people. A Ballard camp for fewer than 50 people is slated to open this weekend.
Even as he swung the gate open on a city-sanctioned homeless camp expected to accommodate 80 people in Interbay, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he realizes not everyone is happy about it.
“I would ask that they work with us,” Murray said of opponents to his plan to have the city provide camps at Interbay, Ballard and in the Industrial District. “We have a national crisis of homelessness on our hands.”
The Interbay camp, operated by the collective Share/Wheel, is the first of the three to open. The Ballard camp, to accommodate fewer than 50 people in the 2800 block of NW Market Street, is expected to open this weekend.
Murray said more than 40 homeless people have died trying to live on the streets of Seattle this year.
“This is a much safer place than in an illegal encampment under the freeway,” the mayor said of the fenced-in lot in the 3200 block of 17th Avenue West, west of the back end of a QFC store.
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Offering a city-sponsored camp could lead to homeless people getting help with the problems that contributed to their plight, such as mental-health issues or drug and alcohol abuse, Murray said,
Murray recently joined with King County Executive Dow Constantine in declaring a state of emergency to deal with homelessness as the winter weather sets in.
The skies were blue, but the wind was sharp and cold at Thursday’s event, in which the mayor opened the gate of a large chain-link fence surrounding the vacant lot.
A brief invocation was delivered by Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, who asked for blessings on those who will stay at the site, and those who will assist them.
“We belong to each other and we need each other,” Ramos said. “When one person dies on the street, a part of us dies as well.”
No opponents to the encampment were evident at the brief gathering, after which some pallets and other materials were brought in to accommodate the first residents.
An opponent reached by phone later said his group is weighing its options.
“This isn’t about whether homeless people are good or bad. That’s a generalization that would be inappropriate,” said Jeff Thompson, co-founder of the Interbay Neighborhood Association.
Thompson said the city has been glossing over the environmental contamination that occurred on the site when it was used to test materials such as asphalt.
“People are going to be putting up tents right on soil that is contaminated,” he said. “This is all about politics and not about the health of those people.”
Scott Thomsen, a spokesman for Seattle City Light, which owns the property, said the contaminated soil is beneath a cap of asphalt, and there is no risk of exposure to people living there.
Under terms of the ordinance that allows the city-owned camps, a site can be approved just for one year, with a possible second-year extension.
The sites must be at least 25 feet from residential lots, within a half-mile of a transit stop and at least a mile from another encampment.
Stu Tanquist of Share/Wheel said residents of the camp will be required to follow a set of rules that prohibits weapons, drugs, alcohol, racist slurs and threatening behavior. Many decisions will be made by an executive committee selected by the residents, he said.
Some of the camp’s occupants are expected to bring their own tents; some will be provided by the organizations operating the sites.
Data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development place the number of homeless people in Washington this year at 19,419, which is up 5.3 percent over last year, but down 15.1 percent from 2010.
Nationally, the number of homeless people has dropped 11 percent since 2010.