SEATTLE - As the city of Seattle debates asking businesses for millions more to fund homeless initiatives, it is quietly moving to open a homeless encampment in South Lake Union and, neighbors in North Seattle say, another encampment on the site previously intended for a new North Precinct police station. And despite receiving several emails from KIRO 7 over two weeks, the city of Seattle has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the planned encampments.
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Melinda Jacobson and her neighbors gathered at the North Seattle site on Aurora Avenue and N.128th Street. She said she was informed of the upcoming encampment not through official city outreach, but through a tip from a city employee.
“What did you think?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.
“I was dumbfounded,” Melinda Jacobson said. “Supposedly alcohol's allowed. Drugs will be allowed. But it has to be people who are seeking treatment.”
Signs are still posted at the site, declaring the new $149 million police precinct that was eventually blocked by opponents in 2016.
“It's not transparent whatsoever. You have to spend tons of time to dig and dig and dig for this information,” she said. “There’s not accountability and that is what’s really bothering us citizens.”
KIRO 7 confirmed another resident did get an official outreach call from the city about the encampment. And Mary’s Place, which is next door and provides shelter to kids and their families, was also informed.
That proximity stunned Jodene Smedvig, who taught in Seattle Public schools for 38 years and worries about the use of drugs and alcohol at the site.
“I’ve had homeless kids come through my classes,” she said. “I just can't have that for kids that are already at a disadvantage to other kids.”
KIRO 7 has been investigating these plans since April 27, when reporter Linzi Sheldon emailed the city’s Human Services about them specifically.
Spokesperson Meg Olberding responded via email, "The City hadn't formally announced any other encampment opening beyond the Whittier Heights women's village."
KIRO 7 asked for a specific answer about encampment plans in North Seattle and South Lake Union.
Olberding wrote, "a report is due to the Council at the end of May that will lay out the City's next steps."
So KIRO 7 asked again, "Is the city or is the city NOT reaching to residents about potential future encampments in South Lake Union and at the site on Aurora Avenue previously intended for the new North Precinct police station?"
Again, the city refused to provide a straight answer, saying instead the mayor will "have more to announce at the end of the month with her report on the Bridge to Housing for All."
KIRO 7 also asked about what kind of behavior would be allowed at the sites. Olberding did not answer that question either, and an email directly to the mayor’s office also went unanswered.
Despite the city's lack of transparency, business leaders confirmed that a homeless encampment is slated for South Lake Union as well, a block from the water and Lake Union Park. The site, at Eighth Avenue and Aloha Street, is currently occupied by a Diamond parking lot.
"We all agree that a tiny village is not permanent housing,” Kyle Ducey, president of the South Lake Union Community Council, told KIRO Radio by phone. “And to get them into a permanent housing situation is the best for those people who are experiencing homelessness and for the community where, that'll be affected by the tiny village."
But when asked if South Lake Union was the right place for this kind of temporary housing, he said, “I'm not sure that I'm prepared to comment on that right now. I think the entire city is experiencing a pretty immense homelessness issue.”
One business leader in South Lake Union told KIRO 7 off-camera that they were displeased with the location and feared that Lake Union Park and the surrounding area would become home to drug deals and more crime.
Kitt Bender, who's lived just a few blocks away from the planned site for almost four years, said he isn’t sure how he feels about the idea.
“I think it would change the vibe a lot,” he said. “I walk by this place all the time and if I’m walking by and I feel like ... I don’t know how well it would sit, honestly. Because there are so many businesses and apartments.”
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