Homeless Shelter Forces Homeless to Lobby

Homeless Shelter Forces Homeless to Lobby

SHARE, the non-profit Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, is being examined for its manipulation of the homeless people it serves. The organization has more shelters than any other organization in King County, Washington, but some of the rules are stirring unrest among the homeless who live in its tents.

One action under the microscope was the requirement of the homeless to sign a pad held by one of SHARE’s founders, Scott Morrow, acknowledging that they had attended a meeting at City Hall of King County Committee to End Homelessness in April. According to one of the homeless, Valerie Siegfried, if the homeless person didn’t sign in, they would not be allowed to sleep in the shelter. She said, “If we want to be in a shelter, if we want to stay alive, then we are required to do this.”

SHARE has been accused of various sinister actions: misusing public money, withholding bus tickets from their members, and forcing the homeless into taking political stands, and the Seattle Police Department and FBI are now investigating.

Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith said he has nit heard any substantive evidence of wrongdoing, and he wants more tent cities in Seattle. He said, “We want to provide emergency shelter for anybody who needs it. We hate the fact that stuff like this potentially goes on.”

SHARE has two official encampments, with Nickelsville, a third encampment, illegally resting on city property.

The investigation started after 60 residents of Tent City 4, in Kirkland, left SHARE and spoke out about SHARE. Some churches are considering cutting their funding of SHARE. In 2012, SHARE erected a camp at the King County Administration Building to protest the city and county’s refusal to give them more bus tickets. One former SHARE resident, Mike Ankerstjerne, said that SHARE residents “were told if we didn’t go, we would be barred from all SHARE shelters. I was looking for a job with fervor, and missed four interviews.” Mike Messer, another resident, said that Morrow “blackmailed us into doing his forced advocacy by threatening us with loss of bus tickets if we didn’t ‘volunteer’ to sleep at the courthouse.”

This was disputed by board member Jarvis Capucion, who said, “Everyone is encouraged to participate. If I’m someone like me that cares about SHARE and I like the place that I’m staying, then I will participate. … That’s part of being in the community. If you care about this place, you need to help us keep this place.”

Capucion has a history: he was thrown out of a SHARE tent city for theft. He said it was just a misunderstanding.

Some residents say if they offer gift cards or other donations for SHARE’s annual fundraising auction, they will be kicked out.

SHARE charges Seattle $5.60 per bed, per night. Seattle has continued to up its contributions to SHARE since 1997; in 2012 the city gave $403,000 for up to 300 beds a night. Churches donate most of SHARE’s shelter space.

SHARE isn’t shy. It has hosted mandatory camp-outs on the lawns of council members, as well as camp-outs at the mayor’s home and also at the King County Administration Building.

Government officials are reluctant to harshly criticize the organization; Councilmember Richard Conlin learned moths ago that Morrow had punished residents at Nickelsville by removing portable toilets from the Nickelsville encampment to punish campers. His response was:

This is very disturbing. In some ways, the SHARE shelters are very empowering to the people involved, but there’s this dark side to it. To me, it just feels inflexible and draconian and the sort of thing that is going to create ill will with any organization, and I think that it winds up being a top-down enforcement of a rigid rule that in the long run undermines the community that it’s designed to create.