by Matt Mills McKnight
Last Sunday, approximately 90 rain-soaked members of the South Seattle community cycled in and out of a once fenced-in, empty lot adjacent to a 76 gas station in Rainier Valley’s Othello neighborhood. Their mission: Create a livable space at the new Othello Tiny House Village and Encampment intended to provide shelter for Seattle’s homeless, and allow them to build better lives for themselves while staying there. The encampment is set to open on March 8th.
Working in three different shifts throughout the day, volunteers helped clean the space, raised tent platforms, installed insulation and tile, and painted the barren walls of the houses.
Abdi Mohamed, a community and labor organizer living in nearby Rainier Beach supports the effort to provide a space in Rainier Valley to provide a temporary solution for Seattle’s homeless. “Simply put, it’s humane to provide help to people who are struggling,” he said. Referencing his own cultural background and other neighbors living in our culturally diverse neighborhoods he said, “Some of my East African brothers and sisters living here have once lived in refugee camps in Kenya, some for long periods of time. It’s important to help others without homes in our city when they are in need.”
Despite opposition from other members of the community, among the volunteers on-site at Othello Village on Sunday, the general mindset was one of helping others less fortunate to get a leg up and move towards a better future for themselves in Seattle.
“We’re planning on having 20 tiny houses here by May or June,” said Sharon Lee, Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). Seated in one of the city-funded canvas tents that will be used as a meeting area for residents of the encampment, “There (are) currently seven on the property, and we expect to have twelve in the space by mid-March,” added Lee.
Each tiny house costs $2200, and is built solely with money raised by the community. According to Lee, one was purchased by neighbors who pooled funds and presented a check to LIHI during the community event. Another will soon to be funded by a local teachers and students. “I received an e-mail from Rose Palmer, whose students at Hazel Wolf K-8 also want to purchase a tiny house, and help paint and decorate it for one of Seattle’s growing homeless population who will soon move in,” she said.
The houses are built off-site with help from a variety of sources including Tulalip Tribes, Walsh Construction, Youth Build, Seattle Vocational Institute, and Renton Technical College.
Homeless individuals who are interested in securing one of the tiny houses or camping on one of the 25 projected tent platforms must follow strict guidelines to obtain and keep their space. Like the other LIHI-sanctioned encampments in the city, there are no drugs, alcohol, or weapons allowed, and no individuals with a criminal record including sex offenses will be permitted in the space. All of the tenants must sign an agreement that will have them immediately evicted should they break any of rules to entry.
All of the adult tenants at Othello Village will also be required to perform jobs that will keep the property functioning properly. “There will be round-the-clock security at the encampment performed in three hour shifts that will keep the others safe,” Lee explained. “Some of the other jobs that residents will be trained for and perform include management of trash and litter, tent master, arbitrator, and donation coordinator–all of these skills will provide valuable skills that will help our homeless to find jobs.”
During a recent interview with The Seattle Times, prominent homelessness expert Barbara Poppe, who was hired by Mayor Ed Murray, expressed unhappiness with the encampments recently established in the City of Seattle.
Lee disagrees with Poppe’s assessment that the encampments aren’t solving the problem of homelessness.
The City of Seattle will be responsible for providing funds dedicated to social services, trash removal, clean water, safety tools, and regular servicing of portable toilets at the property. There are additional plans to raise money and install showers for the residents nearby an adjacent parcel of land now owned by LIHI. A seven-person advisory board of stakeholders in the greater Rainier Valley community will also soon be appointed to help oversee important decisions regarding Othello Village.
There will be a meeting to discuss additional details about Othello Tiny House Village and Encampment organized by Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell this Thursday, 6:30pm at New Holly Gathering Hall, 3815 S. Othello Street.