Licton Springs Village Closing

The low barrier Licton Springs Village encampment is set to close this spring, finishing off the second of their two-year agreement established when city and county issued a state of emergency regarding the homeless crisis. This camp is along Aurora Avenue, a stretch plagued by crime, pedestrian danger, and a “low access to opportunity” (as Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development would define it).

Back in 2016, I attended the original public meeting when Seattle’s Director of Homelessness answered questions regarding the camp that would open months later. That meeting, which was attended by over 100 people in the area, was one of the most disappointing moments for me regarding my community. Shouts of “the needles!”, “the children!”, “the crime will skyrocket!”, and my personal favorite “what about our property values!?” rang out. That last one is especially intriguing since Seattle is experiencing the biggest real estate growth in the city’s history.

Truth be told, I too was skeptical about this camp, but not for those reasons. This was the city’s first ever low barrier encampment, meaning, no resident would be turned away for having pets, spouses, or (the most publicized “barrier”) having drug or alcohol problems. The most critical thing for people to get off drugs, get stable, and get a job is housing. That means housing them even if they’re drunk or high. Now, my personal issue with the camp was the fact they wouldn’t be allowed to drink or smoke marijuana on site. That bugs me because those are legal. And it bugged me to hear people complain that these residents could use those legal drugs “in their neighborhood”. Keep in mind, we held this meeting at a popular neighborhood brewery, since the Aurora Licton Urban Village (ALUV) has no adequate meeting space. Most of those who attended are patrons of this brewery. My biggest gripe was trampling on rights of these vulnerable people. That included rights to illegal drug use, which any housed person has. These tiny homes were their private residences. Part of housing-first should be giving the entitlement to these residents that this is their home, something home owners and renters benefit from. Illegal activity requires a warrant for search. They should have the same rights we all have.

The cries of “the children” regarding the new school complex opening a few blocks away were expected and heard. Since the camp has opened, not a single issue has come of the school children’s proximity to the camp. In fact, the biggest issue with the school has been addressing the speeding cars that zip by nearly hitting kids and volunteers helping them cross the street.

The cries of “the needles” seemed hollow since the area has been plagued by this problem for years. Safe to say it hasn’t gotten worse outside of anecdotal tales you’ll find on Nextdoor. The campers themselves, and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) who ran the camp, held community cleanups which, ironically, cleaned up other people’s messes, not their own. This included needles.

The cries of “the crime” can be analyzed on Seattle Police Department’s dashboard which illustrates detailed analysis of the neighborhood crime rate by year. In 2016 the North Precinct N3 Beat (which captures this neighborhood & the camp) had a total of 928 crimes. The camp opened in spring of 2017. That year there were 935 crimes. It’s only been nine months so far, but the current pace shows that 2018 will have a total of 728 crimes, a decrease of -22% when compared to 2016 (the last year prior to the camp’s opening). The groups who griped about crime, and were proven wrong, found ways to peddle alternative facts citing 9–1–1 calls (which don’t measure crime or crime rates), crime concentration statistics around the camp (which don’t measure criminal activity taking place by the camp’s residents), and even have gone as far to suggest that it’s a conspiracy that the statistics don’t justify what they read on negative Facebook forums or Nextdoor. We should note that the city had a special spotlight on this camp. It was the first ever low barrier camp. And not a single news story showed criminal activity, arrests, or problems occurring by the camp residents. The problems of Aurora are not caused by this camp.

Finally, people cried “what about our property values?” Want to know what happened to property values directly adjacent to the camp? They went up, like everywhere else in this city. Seattle has more people moving here trying to buy homes than we have adequately supplied. Standard 3-bedroom town homes a stone’s throw from the camp are selling for $700,000 give or take. So, to answer that question, what effect will the camp have on property values? How about none.

This compassionate effort rightfully brought forth concerns, I never doubted that (I had some myself). But after a year, it was proven that this camp deserves support in the community. That’s why when the permit’s annual renewal was up, 125 letters of support flooded in, accounting for 50% of the voices the city received on the matter. I’m saddened that the camp is closing because it was achieving it’s first and foremost goal: housing people. The residents of the camp have been grateful, some have even moved on to permanent housing or have found stable employment for the first time in a while. I’ll never forget the noble work they did to help this city & neighborhood’s most vulnerable populations. I’m proud that it was in my neighborhood.

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Architectural rambler pining for a more sustainable Seattle. Density advocate | Transit advocate | Family housing advocate | ALUVer | @pushtheneedle (twitter)