Concerns raised over Seattle's 'low-barrier' homeless camp

A a storage lot, just feet from the intersection of North 88th Street and Aurora Avenue North is one of three new sites proposed by the city of Seattle for an authorized homeless encampment. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE – The city is preparing to open a homeless camp where residents are free to use drugs or alcohol - so long as they keep it off-site.

Some neighbors think this drug and alcohol policy is a recipe for disaster, but city officials say lowering the barriers for who is eligible for shelter is the first step to helping an addict.

“As long as they are not hurting anybody, everybody needs a place to stay,” said Aron Prenovost, who moved into the north Seattle neighborhood six months ago. He said he has a relative struggling with these very issues.

“Who's to judge,” Prenovost said. “It's not black and white."

The site on Nesbit Avenue N is one of three new encampments the city has sanctioned. However, it is the only one so far that will accept drinkers and drug users who don't plan to quit.

“You are enabling these people who clearly have a problem, an addiction problem,” said David Gomez, a Seattle resident who sees deep flaws in the policy, and worries about the impact on crime.

Gomez said real compassion would be to mandate treatment for those who receive housing.

“Allowing them, sanctioning them, to use both alcohol and drugs in a camp where they can now freely sleep and come and go as they please is not the answer,” Gomez said.

When it's complete, residents will stay in tiny houses similar to what can be found at other encampments in the city. However, not every resident is expected to be an addict. Some will have pets or partners that disqualify them from other shelters. One of the only rules at the Nesbit location is that drugs and alcohol stay off-site.

“If they are safe, and they are under the influence, and they have a home there, they'd be welcome to stay,” said George Scarola, the city’s director of homelessness.

The city will also bring in case-workers if residents want help overcoming their challenges.

“We're going to take you as you come,” Scarola said. “If you need housing, you are going to be welcome at this site."

The camp is expected to open in March.

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