By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time since the mayor’s announcement of a “safe lot” in Highland Park for people living in their RVs and cars, a community organization talked about it tonight with District 1 City Councilmember Lisa Herbold.
She arrived at the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council‘s regularly scheduled meeting just in time for a discussion of the issue – a late add to the DNDC agenda, given that news of the plan for “safe lots” here and in Ballard was just announced Tuesday afternoon.
The City Council meets tomorrow (3:30 pm Thursday) to vote on the mayor’s emergency order paving the way for the lots, as well as three emergency sites (none in West Seattle). Introducing Herbold, DNDC chair Mat McBride said he understood the site would host 20 to 25 RVs. He also noted that Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland was on hand too. Herbold said she had asked for someone from the city Human Services Department to attend and was disappointed that no one was available.
Herbold said she “(felt) uncomfortable making a presentation on behalf of the executive (mayor)” because there still wasn’t much information on this sudden proposal. She said she didn’t initially realize the mayor’s office was talking about the lot adjacent to the former encampment site in Highland Park (at West Marginal Way SW and Highland Park Way). She thought the plan sounded at first as if RVs that have been at the heart of an uproar in Magnolia were going to be moved here . “I’m interested in serving the community of folks who are already here” – meaning RV campers around West Seattle and South Park – “and getting THEM services. So that was one of the first things I asked.” She said the mayor’s order is “just a shell” and there’s a lot she wants to see worked out “so the nuts and bolts can be worked out in that 30-day period” (before the lot opens).
Tomorrow’s council vote is not required for the mayor’s order to take effect, she says, but “by voting on it, we have a chance to amend it.” She is hoping to see some language written into it regarding restroom access and other key things the people who use the lot will need.
A representative of Highland Park Improvement Club – directly up the hill from the site – wondered about the location given the unreliability, as she put it, of the Route 131 bus, and how people at the lot would be able to use it to get to water and food. Herbold said she expressed an interest in a route change toward that goal.
McBride said he would like to see from the city, “if we are going to host this – and I’m not saying I’m opposed – I would like the city to double down on the amount of services it’s providing; we’re talking about an area that historically has been underserved, and we need to correct that, particularly if we’re inviting a group of people who themselves are underserved … I would like the city to really acknowledge the fact that yes, yes, we’re doing this, and in doing this, we’re also going to do the following.”
One attendee said she is concerned that this lot will only serve people coming to the area and various unauthorized parking areas will remain around West Seattle.
Herbold acknowledged that and said there are other concerns such as what happens to people who are living in vehicles that are unmovable. Towing might not be a solution, but “that doesn’t mean we can’t be strategic about (things).” She mentioned the “public health approach” that she exhorted in the newsletter she sent around yesterday (linked toward the end of our Tuesday coverage).
Michael Taylor-Judd from the North Delridge Neighborhood Council said some community groups in WS are already “prepared to support this.” He said it is also challenging because the mayor’s office hasn’t finalized some things yet and hasn’t released details. “This isn’t going to solve the problem” given the numbers, so there will still be vehicle campers around the area. He thinks the lot’s likely to be able to host 20 at most. He mentioned that it’s different from when the unsanctioned encampment was there and on the land, not on the paved area as this will be. “This is going to be a very different situation with a contracted provider.”
Discussion ensued including what it takes to get roofs over the heads of those experiencing homelessness; Herbold mentioned that the “Housing First“ model is of course the ideal but it takes a lot more money and a lot more time, but “many different planning processes are focused on adding housing around the city for people from (those without shelter) to the ‘working poor’.”
Amanda Kay Helmick of the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council said, “Homelessness – people living in RVs, in the parks – is nothing new in West Seattle, and we’ve had nothing to address that. I’d like to see something addressing the core reasons for homelessness, not just a band-aid. … We’re looking at drugs, people doing them, people selling them, people prostituting themselves to get money for them … and until we come to an agreement that this is the problem,” nothing’s going to be solved.
Pete Spalding from Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council said he hopes the city has a plan for how to handle it if people with tents show up and try to re-establish an encampment next to the RV lot.
Carolyn Stauffer from the Highland Park Action Committee said she will be stepping down and expressed anxiety over having to deal with this again. It’ll be on the agenda at HPAC’s regularly scheduled meeting next Wednesday. “I am worried about neighborhood equity, and if the map that came out for available encampments, has that been looked at, and I’d like to know if other sites were considered.” She was voicing neither support or opposition, but wanted to be sure there are things that make it “viable and sustainable.”
Herbold responded that she wants to be clear on what neighbors want to see as well as what will be spelled out in the city contract with the organization is going to manage this. “I’d like the city to manage this, not a nonprofit,” said Stauffer. “And since we’re going to get this, can we be taken off the list for the future [tent] encampment?”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s council meeting, Herbold noted that the mayor’s resolution and attachment are most notable for “what they don’t say than what they do say.” In the meantime, she said that vehicle campers would be asked to move to the three interim sites that were identified – nearest one is in SODO – and then to the lots when they’re ready. “The question is, who are we asking to move? This came about when we were looking to solve a problem for Magnolia, and I want to make sure we are using this as a resource to address the needs of people in our [West Seattle/South Park] community.”
One attendee said he was concerned that goals wouldn’t be set for an end to the lots, which Herbold said were apparently supposed to be open for 6 months to a year. But, even if the first dwellers find housing and move on, she wondered, is the idea to move the resource to another area, “because we’re not going to get to the end in six months.”
A rep from West Seattle Bike Connections said there should ideally be a citywide template for how to deal with people who are stuck in situations like this and unable to move on to more permanent solutions.
Willard Brown from Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association said he’s glad the City Council is meeting tomorrow but he’s discouraged that it doesn’t seem likely any change will be made to the mayor’s emergency plan. He thought that a community dialogue about responding to homelessness in the community would be appropriate – because it might touch so many of us in the future, if not now.
Herbold said if the community is interested in a broader discussion of homelessness and its causes, she’s definitely interested in facilitating. She notes that the Westside Interfaith Network is one of the organizations that’s been helping people. She said that she’ll be working with Councilmember Sally Bagshaw whose committee is point on this issue, because Herbold has a longtime interest in it.
HPIC’s Kay Kirkpatrick noted that her volunteer-driven group has worked on improving its working-class neighborhood – “we’re doing it all ourselves, and (they fear that) this disrespectful disregard to our three years of kind of hosting (the previous encampment) is going to smash down on the spirit of our neighborhood – which we rely on because we have nobody else but ourselves.”
As the conversation was concluding, chair McBride said he received e-mail offering Mayor Murray and a “star-studded cast” of other city leaders for next month’s DNDC meeting. He and DNDC members instead decided they want the mayor and others to go to Highland Park Action Committee’s meeting next Wednesday instead, as this is already on the agenda and theirs is the area most directly affected. That request will be conveyed by Nyland to the mayor’s office tomorrow.
CITIZENS FOR OFF-LEASH AREAS: This relatively brief update was a followup to what DNDC discussed at its last meeting, and COLA chair Ellen Escarcega said coverage of that inspired her group to ask for some time this month. It’s all a lead-up to the Seattle Parks strategic plan for “people, dogs and parks,” due out sometime soon but delayed from the timetable discussed by a Parks rep at DNDC two months ago. The nonprofit is in its 20th year and has an agreement with the city to manage its dog parks, which began opening in 1997. They’ve gone only from 19 to 25 acres total in the city since then.
Escarcega declared, “All we’ve done is advocate for more legal places to take your dog offleash; we’re not trying to take over the parks,” or any other goals. She said that our city is “100 acres behind the average” of other West Coast cities – Vancouver, for example, has more than 160 acres. “COLA’s been trying to say that 25 acres is causing a problem in Seattle.” Dogs need exercise, she says. She says one city, for example, allows dogs off-leash in the late-night hours and that has led to a lower crime rate in the parks. She says the city has had no budget for off-leash parks for the past 18 years, and they have provided materials and labor to maintain trails, etc., in that time. “We’re trying very hard to speak for dog owners … in the survey that Parks did, nearly 3/4 of the dog owners had medium to large dogs, and a huge number was active breeds,” plus many of the dogs were age 5 or less. One of the biggest responses was from West Seattle. She said they don’t know yet what the city is recommending – “we don’t know what’s going to happen.” But they’re hoping to hear by the end of this month.
(added, 11:11 pm) WHAT’S COMING UP: West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets at The Kenney (WSB sponsor) on January 28th; “if you want light rail to come here, attend this meeting” (as previewed here), 6:30 pm … Gathering of Neighbors will be presented by VIEWS, 9 am-1 pm on March 12th at Youngstown, with an in-depth conversation about homelessness part of the agenda, including the panel that appeared at this month’s 34th District Democrats meeting (WSB coverage here) … DNDA’s “Destination Delridge” benefit is coming up February 16th … Southwest Youth and Family Services is having a 5-7 pm event at its headquarters on February 4th … The “load test” at T-5 coming up this Friday was mentioned … Neighbor Appreciation Day is coming up February 13th, announced neighborhood district coordinator Kerry Wade from the Department of Neighborhoods. Also coming up, February 8th deadline to apply for Neighborhood Park and Street Fund projects. “If you’ve got anything you want in your neighborhood, now’s the time,” reminded Pigeon Point’s Spalding, saying this often is how to get a project on the city’s radar, even if it doesn’t wind up getting a share of the NPSF fund. … Next WWRHAH meeting will feature reps from what used to be the Department of Planning and Development, February 2nd, 6:15 pm, Southwest Library.
NEXT DNDC MEETING: 7 pm February 17th, be at Youngstown for a discussion with SDOT about the future of Delridge, the street. They want community members to turn out to show SDOT that it needs to honor its commitment