A tale of two tent cities – what will happen in Interbay and Ballard when the ordinance is up in November?
By Lindsay Peyton
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times -- for two tent cities only two miles apart.
Both camps were created as a result of 2015 legislation – and each was given a two-year shelf life from the city.
In November, each encampment has to move, no matter what.
Leadership from each tent city and community advocates have spent the past few months searching for new homes – and were hopeful that they could stay in the neighborhoods where they were established, Interbay and Ballard.
Their prayers were answered for Tent City Interbay, 3234 17th Ave W, when the Port of Seattle voted on Tuesday, Sept. 12 to give the encampment a home on its Tsubota property, located at 1601 15th Ave W, in the area for the next two years.
Meanwhile, the tent city to the north, just across Salmon Bay, hasn’t been so lucky.
The encampment is called Nickelsville Ballard.
Courtney O’Toole, external affairs coordinator for Nickelsville, explained that the City of Seattle presented the encampment with four options to consider in June.
In July, spokespeople for the camp sent a letter to the city with their two preferred options.
Nickelsville did not hear back until Thursday, Sept. 7, O’Toole said.
And she explained that the city told Nickelsville that the old sites were no longer an option – and offered a new location instead.
“The city told us we could have a site that’s 1,400 sq. ft. less than the encampment in Ballard,” she said.
O’Toole explained that the existing site is already packed with people. “And we’d be stuck there for two years,” she said. “If the city were to give us a bigger site, we could help more people.”
She now hopes Nickelsville will gain public support for a larger site. “We need people to contact the city, send emails out, get the word out,” she said. “Ballard needs a bigger site.”
The encampment only has until Nov. 18 to figure out its next move.
Back at Tent City Interbay, residents will pack up and move to a better, new home.
Right now, there are a few tents house families, some with just mothers and children and a few reserved for couples. Children’s toys and planted flowers stood at the entrances of some of the makeshift shelters. A row of bicycles stands ready for repairs from a handy resident.
There’s a security office at the front, and a large tent in the corner that serves as a kitchen. Almost every day of the week a church or charitable group brings by food to be distributed among the residents. Women and children eat first.
“We run a tight camp,” resident Michael Lee Clifton said. “We do everything ourselves, and we’re organized.”
Each resident has a job to do on site -- from distributing blankets to running the kitchen.
“Give people rules – and something to work for,” Clifton said. “They feel like they have a job, like they have a purpose. They’re doing something positive for themselves and for the community.”
He recently spent his last night in Tent City Interbay talking about his transformative experience.
He never intended to stay long.
“That’s the reason why we’re here,” he said. “It’s not a place to camp out. It’s a place to help people get back on their feet.”
Paul Stroupe has lived in Tent City Interbay for the past five months. He said offering the encampments could keep others from camping out in their RVs or in unsanctioned shelters.
“We’re a solution – a sanctioned camp with rules,” he said. “I’d rather live here. If they knew they had this option, they might chose to do it. And it might clean up the neighborhood.”
Tent city Interbay serves as a saving grace for its residents, Stroupe said.
“If you want to have a job, if you want to have a career, you have to have a place to sleep,” he said. “You have to have a place to shower, a place to prepare your food.”
Clifton said that the tent city provided more than a shelter. It gave him the resources he needed – at a time when he was the most in need.
If the tent city weren’t around, he wonders what would become of the residents.
“We would have nowhere to go,” he said.
For more information about Nickelsville, visit https://sites.google.com/a/nickelsville.org/home/home.
For more information about Tent City Interbay, visit www.sharewheel.org.