Ballard Commons Update



December 2021  

Ballard Commons Park was addressed after over sixty people were brought inside into shelter by using a new model that featured a people-centric approach to addressing homelessness. This work was possible only because of the partnership between Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, Evergreen Treatment Services – REACH, the Vehicle Residency Outreach Team, the Ballard Alliance, the Parks Department, and the Human Services Department. 

You can read the Seattle Times article, the Seattle Times Editorial, or watch some of the news coverage the day after the park closed. We built and used a framework that was based on best practices to address homelessness at Ballard Commons Park. This encampment resolution took over two and a half months compared to the old way of doing business, which would take 2 days and this change is why we see different results. 

This timeline was driven by new shelter openings and safe places to move people inside becoming available. This work was successful only because we took the time for outreach workers to build relationships and create plans for people. It is important to note that some groups of people needed to move together, and others needed to be separated.   

The reason that this is a new way of removing encampments is that we’re using a human-centered approach. The reason we were successful in utilizing a human-centered approach and bringing over sixty people inside who have lived on the street, often for many years, is that we were able to get all three essential pieces of the solution in place: relationships, resources, and time.   

In August 2021, we created a census of everyone living in the park, then in September we created a needs assessment to match people with a shelter that was right for their specific needs, and in October we began moving people inside. Closing the park was originally scheduled for the beginning of November, and this date changed because there was a shelter that was delayed in opening at that time. So, we continued moving people inside in November and December. Taking time 2.5 months instead of 2.5 days to complete an encampment removal is a new and more effective model that Ballard had not seen before, and people are much more likely to stay inside when this model is utilized because their specific needs are met this way.  

Homelessness outreach workers had the time to build relationships with people living onsite at the park, so they could build trust and understand what people needed in order to move inside. REACH’s homelessness outreach worker came to Ballard nine months ago and built a relationship with the 85 or so people living in the park. He promised that if they trusted him, he would do everything he could to move them inside to better homes. He got to know them and their specific needs, some of which included people living with cancer, individuals who experience seizures, or people who were victims of gender-based violence. Roughly eighty percent of people at Ballard Commons Park were living with acute behavioral health needs. It goes without saying that shelter options are not “one size fits all”, many people need a shelter option where they can also access medical treatments or specialized support.

The shelter and housing resources the City Council funded became available a little later than expected, so we could have acted quicker at Ballard Commons, had this shelter become available any sooner. However, thanks to DESC’s new emergency supportive housing, LIHI’s Tiny Homes, the Catholic Community Services’ high-needs shelter support, and other resources, we were able to match people to the right fit for their needs. This highlights the need for a more comprehensive array of shelter options, and additionally, we need adequate housing for people to go to once they’ve stabilized. Without folks transitioning out of shelters and into more permanent housing, our shelters fill to capacity and limit our ability to bring people off the streets. The 2023-2024 budget includes a combined half-billion over the biennium in affordable housing investments, which is a 400% increase since 2016. 

Previous encampment removals at Ballard Commons did not use this human-centered approach, which led to other encampments popping up around the district. Our approach changed the way the city removes largescale encampments; as we worked together as a unified team to focus on getting people inside and returning the park to its designed use, we also changed how city bureaucracy works. 

December 2021 was the midpoint in a four-year plan. I began working to create lasting change at the Commons as soon as I took office in 2020. As I was sworn in, we had a Hepatitis A outbreak at the park. In 2024 we will have a rejuvenated park, new family-affordable housing, market rate housing, and a new sanctuary for St. Luke’s Church across the street. Creating lasting solutions that stand the test of time takes longer to implement. I believe the solutions we have and will continue to implement will stand the test of time. 

This work would not have been possible without James from REACH. It is important we don’t take pity on people and leave them unforsaken; we must bring them inside. 

December 2022 

After resolving the encampment at Ballard Commons Park, we used the same model to resolve the encampment at Woodland Park in May 2022 which resulted in even higher numbers of people coming inside.  

Since May of 2022, I have been working hard to coordinate wider changes along 22nd Avenue, and the reopening of the Ballard Commons that will entail a grand re-opening. My staff and I work weekly with stakeholders who are involved with 22nd Avenue; this list includes the Department of Finance and Services (Customer Service Center), Seattle Public Libraries, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Human Services Department, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Seattle Housing Authority, The Commons Apartments, On the Park Apartments, the Ballard Alliance, Low Income Housing Institute, and other community leaders. 

This is an operational workgroup that focuses solely on action-items that to improve the public space in our downtown core through a public-private partnership. In addition to coordinating the reopening of Ballard Commons Park, this work includes addressing deferred maintenance of city assets, sheltering people living in front of the library, and bringing activities for all ages to the front porch of the Library. I take a very hands-on approach to this, and every week we all have action items that stakeholders fulfill and communicate back with the group. This is to create a public space for everyone, whether you’re down and out or up on your luck. Our coordination work will continue for the foreseeable future.  

The park is scheduled to have a grand re-opening in Quarter 1 of 2023. While I wanted to reopen the park sooner, some important work had not been completed in time for a summer reopening, and I am excited the planning for the grand reopening has begun.  

When the park reopens, we will have an activation plan so we can bring enjoyment for everyone living around here – again, for people who are down and out and for people who are up on their luck. It was important for the park to take time to breathe, deferred maintenance attended to, and improvements made because we needed to have a clean break from how things have been so that we can build the future we want the park to have. 

Success is not clearing a park, success is getting people inside, success is changing the way our neighborhood looks feels, and operates. I’ve long said that our parks, our libraries, and our buses should not be homeless shelters because we need shelters and housing operating at the scale of our crisis. We need real, lasting solutions tailored to move people inside and, once there, stay on a path toward permanent housing. This is one of my top goals as a City Councilmember, and I am proud to be working with so many different entities to lead this work. 

Housing  

Housing is a separate and related topic to addressing homelessness. I am noting it here because we are not able to graduate people out of the shelter without additional Permanent Supportive Housing and affordable housing units. Without graduating people out of a shelter, our shelters fill to capacity and limit our ability to bring people off the streets. 

 We know people who can afford higher rents are only able to find places to live that are cheaper, meaning people who are on a tight budget or exiting homelessness have an even harder time finding a place to live. A study conducted by UW has shown that, while having adequate amounts of housing in the city does not solve homelessness completely, it can reduce homelessness fivefold. When Seattle creates the housing to meet our needs, we will be addressing the majority of people who are experiencing homelessness, which will allow us to focus on the chronically unhoused people.  

2021 was the first year we met our benchmark of funding affordable housing at $200 million per year. We did it again in 2022 by investing $250 million into affordable housing. In addition to funding affordable housing, I am working to remove bureaucratic barriers to quickly building housing including adding permitting staff to review desks and ensuring Design Review does not add cost and time to affordable housing projects. 

If you would like to read more about how the Regional Authority on Homelessness is operating and my focus on homelessness at large, please read my most recent newsletter focused on this topic.

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