Patrick Robinson
The Nickelsville homeless encampment at 7116 W. Marginal Way S.W. in West Seattle's Highland Park neighborhood, as seen on Aug. 22. The city council has set a move-out date of Sept. 1 for the camp they consider illegal.

Union Gospel Mission explains their Nickelsville work, hopes to dispel "rumors"

“One of the most difficult things for us to deal with is dispelling rumors,” Union Gospel Mission (UGM) men’s shelter director Terry Pallas said of their work with Nickelsville’s homeless population in finding transitional housing solutions.

With a city-mandated Sept. 1 eviction date for the unauthorized tent city in West Seattle Highland Park neighborhood looming, Pallas spoke with the Herald in hopes of dismissing what he called inaccurate rumors being spread by some Nickelsville residents. Many of those sentiments were shared with the Herald during our camp tour on Aug. 22.

“I just think it’s ironic that the same reasons people are here (and homeless) are keeping them out of UGM’s program,” 3-year Nickelsville resident Mike Singer said on the tour, claiming the bar is too high for most residents to take advantage of the $500,000 Seattle’s city council tasked UGM with doling out to provide transitional housing. We spoke with residents who said UGM case workers told them their lack of income, criminal histories, drug use and other factors were keeping them out of contention.

“We have served everyone from families with children, women with children, couples, same sex couples, individuals – all across the board we’ve been able to help people in Nickelsville find solutions,” Pallas said, adding that since July 3 (their first day at the camp), UGM has helped 47 people either into transitional housing (where UGM signs a year-long lease with the goal of aiding the tenant in finding work to take over lease fully after that time), year-long addiction recovery or domestic violence programs, or “travelers assistance,” where UGM pays to transport a client to a job, housing, family or community outside of Seattle.

As for the list of factors keeping people out of housing contention shared at Nickelsville, Pallas said the list ranges from partially to “totally” inaccurate.

Some residents said they were told they didn’t qualify for help because they could not illustrate any sort of income to take over the lease of a transitional apartment at year’s end.

“We have never said that,” Pallas responded. “We don’t expect anybody is going to have a job. I mean, they are homeless, you know, they are living in tents and there is no expectation that they would have anything to bring to the table at this point. They only thing they need is a willing spirit.”

Concerning drug use, he said, ““Our policy for transitional housing is that people abstain from illegal substances. So if they are on methadone, if they are marijuana users, that is not a barrier for them to get into housing at all.”

For those with active addiction to illegal drugs, Pallas said case workers try to channel those people into UGM’s one-year addiction recovery program, which he pointed out is not paid for by the city contract, instead of into transitional housing.

“The biggest barrier to folks is past felonies,” he said of those with a criminal history, explaining that trying to find felony friendly housing is difficult, but the barrier is not from UGM policies, but rather from landlords and apartment owners.

How far will the money go?
“The $500,000 is only going to go so far and we’ve known that all along, and so even from the very beginning we’ve tried to make that stretch as far as possible,” Pallas said, offering up the example of furnishing transitional apartments with donated goods from UGM’s warehouse.

Asked whether it’s possible for UGM to find housing or other solutions for all Nickelsville residents, he explained, “When we originally showed up on site on July 3 there was between 80 and 100 people there. For every person or couple of family that we move out another one moves in because there is just an open policy at Nickelsville, (and) the city chose not at that time to enforce it as a closed camp … so basically we were just coming in without a real accurate number on how many people were there because Nickelsville would not give us a roster … and the city would not do a census.”

Pallas said most of the half million is split between two places: transitional housing rent payments and salaries and benefits for three case workers to work with those people for a year.

At some point that money will run out, but Pallas said the mission continues regardless of city funding or city deadlines for Nickelsville to pack up and vacate.

“We exist to serve and to care for those in the greatest need and those folks in Nickelsville are in grave need,” he said. “They are the demographic that we are called to work with no matter what deadline the city puts on (the camp).

“That’s not going to stop once Sept. 1 comes.”

As Nickelsville prepares for their move (which they say will happen if three new legal tent camps big enough to move the entire population are found), their central committee is asking anyone interested in volunteering – anything from elbow grease to moving trucks to food and life supplies – to contact Scott Morrow at 206-450-9136.

The move out will start on or before Sept. 1 and they anticipate an additional two to three days to complete it. If new sites are not found in time, Mayor McGinn's office has not stated whether they'll force tenants out and tear down tents on eviction day, or give the residents additional time to find enough space.

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