MAY 8 UPDATE: Since mid-April, the Navigation Team has referred 29 unsheltered individuals from the Ballard Commons area to recently opened tiny home villages and enhanced shelter beds at Lake Union Village, T.C. Spirit Village, and Lakefront Community House. Advanced outreach in the Ballard Commons area resulted in 21 individuals accepting shelter. 8 individuals accepted shelter on the day of the removal. Preliminary data shows approximately 70% of all referrals the Navigation Team has made citywide since mid-April arrived and enrolled at these new shelter resources.
Today, after weeks of extensive outreach that began in March — including the offer of shelter to all individuals—the City removed an unmanaged and unlawful encampment in the Ballard Commons area. The removal was completed due to immediate and ongoing risks to the public health and safety of the community, including Hepatitis A. Living structures also obstructed public rights-of-way, which created further public health risks. The team made repeated visits to this site, resulting in 19 accepted offers of shelter in the week leading up to the removal. The team made 29 site visits since March and provided 48-hours formal written notice at 9am Saturday May 2. Outreach — including offers of shelter—continued up to and during the removal of the unsafe and unlawful encampment on Monday.
The removal follows weeks of ongoing outreach in the Ballard Commons area by the City of Seattle’s Navigation Team, leading to 19 acceptances of shelter since April 22—which demonstrates a high level of engagement and outreach success by the team. In mid-April, the City opened 95 new shelter beds that are exclusively available to the Navigation Team at tiny house villages and enhanced shelter. Individuals from the Ballard Commons encampments have primarily been referred to these new shelter resources, and the City is focused on using these new resources to bring individuals living unsheltered into safer and healthier conditions.
Navigation Team engagement in the area included collaboration with Public Health –Seattle King County (“Public Health”) to address the recent outbreak in Hepatitis A cases through the distribution of public health flyers, handing out of hygiene kits, and coordination of Hepatitis A vaccines. The Navigation Team has also worked with Seattle Parks and Public Utilities to provide hygiene resources in the area including sanicans and a hygiene station. Prior to the removal, the team had made over 30 site visits to conduct outreach, remove garbage, and to distribute hygiene kits. As of April, Public Health has identified 17 cases of Hepatitis A among individuals who are living unsheltered in Ballard.
Recently, the City of Seattle and The Seattle Public Library announced the re-opening of restrooms at five library locations including the Ballard Branch (5614 22nd Ave. N.W.), which opened in April. This reopening, done in coordination and under the guidance of Public Health, continues to provide additional hygiene resources to people living unsheltered in Ballard Commons.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis and across Seattle, the Navigation Team has distributed 2,233 hygiene kits, 1,837 Public Health—Seattle & King County (Public Health) COVID-19 and Hepatitis A flyers, 352 meals, and hygiene services maps.
Despite these daily services and efforts to get people into shelter and reduce public health impacts, the unauthorized encampment continued to grow with deteriorating conditions that posed significant, immediate, and ongoing risks to the health and safety of both the housed and unsheltered community. The team determined the encampment posed an extreme circumstance given these conditions. The most significant risks at this location were:
- The growing number of people living unsheltered and in close/dense proximity increases risk for both COVID-19 and Hepatitis A exposure and spread
- Despite providing hygiene and medical services , the accumulation of human and biowaste continued to grow, compounding potential Hepatitis A exposure and other communicable disease risks
- Living structures and stored materials obstructed safe access to sidewalks, the Ballard Commons Park and Ballard Library, and rights-of-ways, especially along the perimeter of the park.
- This removal was conducted under the City’s obstruction and hazard guidelines. However, the City provided advance written notice, ongoing outreach and services, and offered shelter and storage leading up to and during the removal. Understanding the current COVID-19 crisis and the prevalence of Hepatitis A, this was done to help get as many people into shelter as possible, where individuals would have access to 24/7 services, hygiene, and storage of belongings.
There were 15 individuals living unsheltered within the encampment at the start of the removal on Monday. Every individual was offered shelter. The team had shelter available for every person interested in shelter, including enhanced and tiny house village spaces. Specifically, there were two beds available at the Navigation Center, one tiny house at Lake Union Village, and nine spaces available at Lakefront Community House. The team also had access to shelter beds at other City-funded shelter programs operated by DESC, Salvation Army, and Compass Housing. Note that under City protocols, offers of shelter and bed availability are not required for an obstruction removal. However, shelter space was set aside in advance of this removal to build on the outreach leading up to today’s events. Final outreach data will be included in an update to this post.
Public Health and Safety Considerations
Beginning in early March, the City has limited its unsanctioned encampment removals to areas that pose public health and public safety risks. Weeks of ongoing outreach and focused efforts to bring public health resources to the area ultimately did not reduce the public health and safety concerns. The City focused nearly all outreach efforts citywide to the Ballard Commons area to move people out of unsafe outdoor living conditions into safer indoor spaces that allow for better social distancing, 24/7 access to showers, restrooms, and supportive services.
The City has a responsibility to protect public health and safety for all residents of Seattle. Removing unsafe and unlawful encampments—such as the Ballard Commons area —was done only after ongoing outreach with offers to shelter.
The City will monitor the area following the removal to ensure the area is not immediately re-camped. Note–outreach data included may change slightly as information is finalized and verified.