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Crime reports spike as tiny house village seeks permit renewal

New numbers from police confirm a significant spike in crime reports for one neighborhood along Aurora Avenue – all since the arrival of a one-of-a-kind homeless camp. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - New numbers from police confirm a significant spike in crime reports for one neighborhood along Aurora Avenue – all since the arrival of a one-of-a-kind homeless camp.

The statistics cover the census block that includes Licton Springs Village, a tiny house encampment that’s been operating for just over a year.

According to Seattle police, overall crime reports have jumped 80 percent so far this year compared to the same time frame last year. This follows a roughly 220 percent increase that police measured between 2016 and 2017.

In recent months, the data shows the biggest increases involved disturbance reports, followed by drugs and then assaults. While police can't directly link this criminal activity to the tiny house village, some neighbors are raising concerns.

These numbers are getting a lot of attention because the camp is trying to get its operating permit renewed by the city for another year.

What sets Licton Springs Village apart is that it is a low-barrier camp, which allows people who would be turned away at most other shelters. That includes people with pets, those who want to live with partners, as well as people who are still using drugs.

Although people staying at the village said this type of housing is changing lives, some neighbors said it is ruining theirs.

“The dads had to hunt for needles before we laid out Easter eggs this last year, so that's something you thought you'd never have to do,” said Eddie King, a long-time resident of the neighborhood.

However, people trying to transition their lives said the tiny homes are the hand-up they needed but couldn’t find before.

“When I was homeless in Phoenix, I was literally on the street, eating out of garbage cans and everything,” said Lilli Cox, who has lived at Licton Springs Village since it opened.

While there are significant increases in crime reporting in the area, police said they can't directly link it to the camp. Neighbors said the impacts are dramatic and many feel like city officials have left them on their own.

“We've had to do a lot here in the neighborhood with people either coming together and arming themselves or trying to figure out a block watch scenario, and spending our own money to protect our homes,” King said.

The city is still weighing community feedback before deciding if the camp can stay for another year. Village residents are hopeful.

“If it gets renewed one more year, it would be a big blessing," Cox said.

The Low Income Housing Institute - which sponsors the camp – suggested another possible reason for why crime reports are up. Sharon Lee, the agency’s executive director, said the neighborhood had crime problems long before the camp arrived, but now staff are closely monitoring the situation.

“It was the security staff on site that called police if they saw illegal activity or if they saw people fighting,” Lee said.

If Licton Springs Village is approved for another year, Lee said it won’t affect long term plans for the site, which are to build at least 100 units of workforce housing.

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