Architecture students lead discussion on Ballard’s homeless encampment

Glue sticks, scissors, tissue paper, yarn, and hundreds of small foam blocks were strewn across 11 tables in the UW’s Gould Hall Court on Tuesday night.

What appeared to be 50 adults doing arts and crafts was actually attempts to create a model of a viable homeless encampment.

Hosted by the UW department of architecture, the three-hour event resulted in 11 very different ideas of what the encampment, specifically the city-designated soon-to-be encampment on 2826 NW Market St. in Ballard, could be.

This particular encampment will house 52 residents, likely in 96-square-foot houses. The site is not large. Currently, it’s a medium-sized patch of grass tucked between a bar and a parking lot. This made fitting the 50 small blocks of foam in the designated space, each representing one person’s temporary home, very difficult.

Sharon Sutton, professor of architecture and urban design, hosted the event along with five of her students. She said there were no right or wrong answers; they were just there to brainstorm.

“It’s about getting people together who have different perspectives on the issue and starting a conversation,” Sutton said.

Many of the attendees were current and former Ballard residents, two were potential residents of the encampment, and others were in the architecture or construction business.

Prior to building actual models, participants broke into groups led by conversation facilitators, most of whom were authorities in the field of architecture or urban planning, and discussed the various expectations they had of the residents of the encampments, neighbors, and of city officials.

Each group was then assigned a more specific conversation topic. These included connectivity, safety, landscape, beauty, social service, and construction.

Freelance architect and conversation facilitator Dave Machemer discussed construction with his group. He said permanence and sustainability are essential, “as opposed to ‘hey, stay here for a month then get out.’”

Other encampments in Seattle include Nickelsville, located at 1010 S. Dearborn St., and Tent City 3, which is currently located at Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church.

The rising number of homeless individuals in the Seattle area led Mayor Ed Murray to select three new encampment sites in late June, hoping to be up and running this year. The other two new sites are in Interbay and the Industrial District. Together the three sites will host 200 people.

The sites must be 25 feet from residential lots, a half-mile or less from a bus stop, one mile from another encampment, and at least 5,000 square feet.

Another conversation facilitator, writer and brand strategist Sean O’Connor, said while these sites must be somewhat divided from its neighbors, there’s no need to create unwelcoming borders.

“We need a working space for the residents to create a community for each other, learn from each other,” O’Connor said. “But not being completely fenced in from neighbors like a demilitarized zone.”

The Ballard location caused an uproar of disapproval among many Seattleites, mainly Ballard residents and business owners. Several attendees of the community meetings held to discuss the encampment space said they felt their voices weren’t heard in the selection process.

On the other hand, many advocates for the homeless said it was the age-old ‘not in my backyard’ philosophy that spurred the upheaval.

“I think people find they’re a lot less scared of these encampments than they thought they would be,” Machemer said.

The event concluded with a debrief. Sutton asked participants what they learned and whether or not they would attend a similar workshop if she were to host again.

“I heard a lot of ideas I hadn’t thought about, so we’re off to a great start,” she said.

Reach News Editor Kate Clark at Twitter: @KateClarkUW

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