SEATTLE -- Beyond a gate along 87th and Aurora Avenue is a community of tiny homes.
On any given day, Licton Springs Village houses 60 homeless people. It’s the only city-sanctioned homeless encampment that’s low barrier, meaning it allows people to stay there even if they are using drugs and alcohol.
“I called them when there were drug users in the back of my townhome,” neighbor Amber Matthai said.
Neighbors who live closest to the tiny-home village say they are constantly calling police about open drug use, theft and property crime.
It’s such a nuisance that Matthai says some neighbors have moved out.
One property owner on Nesbit Avenue North had shards of glass embedded on the top of their fence, preventing people from jumping over into their property.
“They broke into my car, into my garage and stole things out of my car,” said one resident who didn’t want to show his face out of safety concerns.
But is crime really worse in the neighborhood because of the Licton Springs Village?
Seattle police say their data cannot prove causation but the numbers do capture an increase in a two-city block radius of where the tiny village sits.
And the increase is a big one.
In 2016, before the tiny-home village moved in, there were 68 crimes in the two city block radius.
In 2017, when the village opened, the number jumped to 138.
That’s a 103% increase in crime.
Police say some of the criminal activity stemmed from a big theft ring at Seattle Rare Coins that they busted and had nothing to do with the village.
Still, residents say it’s playing a big role.
“You have to have some managers in place; you have to have some procedures that people can feel safer,” said one resident.
The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which manages the site for the city, says they are working on a number of security upgrades.
LIHI works with SHARE to operate the village. It received $1.7 million for 2018.
“We are putting (up) security lights, we are putting up security cameras and we will change the orientation of the entrance,” LIHI’s Executive Director Sharon Lee said.
That way, their two security guards who are on site 24/7 can have a better vantage point of who is coming and going.
The city says the average length of stay for Licton Spring Village residents is 265 days. The goal is to find permanent housing. But Lee says they also move people into transitional housing on the road to permanent housing. Some of the homeless people are also reunited with family and friends.
“Over half the people who exited went into long-term housing; problem is that there is not enough permanent supportive housing,” Lee said.
But others say the real problem is not enough treatment.
“They absolutely have to redirect funding to mental health care and drug rehab,” Matthai said.
LIHI says they have one case manager and the city just approved funding for a second case manager. LIHI says since the approval just happened, they don’t have a timeline of when that case manager will be hired.
There are six city-sanctioned encampments in Seattle; Lee says the newer encampments will now require residents to accept services and treatment.
Lee says SHARE -- the group that helps to operate several of the encampments, including Licton Springs -- does not believe residents should be forced to accept services. Lee says she is working to change that.
The tiny-home village is up for renewal for a second year.
The city says because of all the complaints, they are now reviewing LIHI’s operations and requiring them to work with the residents at the village to address the problems.
The city says they gave LIHI until the end of August to deal with the issues. Right now there is no timeline of when the city is expected to make a decision on the permit renewal.
According to Seattle Police data in 2017, the two city block radius where Licton Springs Village sits had the 18th highest crime rate in the North Precinct. This year so far they have the 8th highest crime rate, despite the fact that overall the North Precinct is seeing crime numbers go down.
To address the increase in crime in that specific area, SPD says they are doing overtime patrols along Aurora Avenue.
They are also checking buildings and parking lots near the Licton Springs village.