One week after announcing Myers Way encampment, city reps face skeptical community leaders

By Linda Ball
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

To say that emotions ran high at last night’s meeting about the city’s plan for an authorized encampment on Myers Way is an understatement.

Led by George Scarola, the city’s director of homelessness, the meeting included an invited group of about 40 concerned neighborhood advocates, and escalated into raised voices and statements of clear dissatisfaction with the city, one week after Mayor Murray’s announcement of three new encampments around the city, including this one.

In an overview of the homeless problem citywide, Scarola said there were 3,000 unsheltered people on the streets of Seattle as he spoke, and even more if you counted those in shelters. Countywide, he said 10,000 are homeless, 4,500 of those unsheltered. “Something different is happening,” he said of the problem. “It’s a phenomenon that has become common.”

The city’s plan, he said, is to get homeless people only what they need as fast as possible – not a “Cadillac” but to get them sheltered. The city is working with various non-profit organizations to become more effective in solving this dilemma. In the meantime, the city needs to address those 3,000 people, without them living in parks, on school grounds or on sidewalks.

Folks living on the edge – under freeways, on the edge of parks – will be asked to move and given 72 hours to do so, Scarola said, with the offer of a warm place to stay. Camp Second Chance, which moved to the city-owned Myers Way Parcels last July, is currently unsanctioned, but is slated to be one of three new sanctioned homeless encampments within the city. 20 tents are there now; the city says 50 will be added. Rules would apply – it would be a clean and sober community, as its organizers say it is now. People would be allowed to bring partners and pets.

The first person to speak up was Gunner Scott (photo at left), chair of the Highland Park Action Committee. Formerly homeless and now a homeowner, Scott said the permit for CSC should be retroactive to when the encampment was set up last summer, since the city is saying all of the new encampments will get an initial permit for one year.

Scott wondered why, after hosting the original Nickelsville encampment for several years, Highland Park was being asked to host another encampment. He also pointed out that the area of the Myers Way Parcels where CSC has set up is contaminated with toxins, and even before the camp moved there, Myers Way had become a magnet for people living in recreational vehicles along the road, illegal dumping, and a variety of other illegal activity. “By continuing to put people in an industrial area is a hazard to their health, ” Scott said.

Area residents Carol and Pat, who did not want to share their last name for fear of retribution, have seen it all. Pat said he had to call 911 twice earlier in the day about the same man casing houses. The couple, who live right on the edge of the Seattle/unincorporated King County border, say they have spent more than 1,000 hours writing letters and making phone calls to the city, county, and law enforcement this year. Pat, a 30-year resident of Myers Way, alleges that people in the RV’s have been involved in prostitution, drugs, and chop-shops. He said the area has become dangerous, and that Seattle Police need to be there 24/7. He also said that 99 percent of the garbage strewn along Myers Way is from people living unsheltered.

The sentiment echoed by almost everyone at the meeting is that they are tired of their neighborhoods being the dumping ground for the city’s problems. Amanda Kay Helmick, who chairs the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council and is president of the Roxhill Elementary PTA, was visibly shaking as she spoke of the illegal encampment right behind the school, where drug use is rampant. “I picked up condoms yesterday – what are you going to do? I want answers!” she said.

SPD Assistant Chief Steve Wilske, a former Southwest Precinct commander, said they will be deploying more officers, and that they can make troublemakers leave. The problem is, he said, they can’t prevent them from coming back. But the city has set aside $50 million to address the homeless problem, to which Helmick responded “$50 million on 10,000 people?”

Mary Fleck with the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition – which advocated for the city to retain the Myers Way Parcels instead of selling them – also wants a commitment from the city to clean up the area around the camp, remove illegal campers deeper in the woods, and move the RVs. Scarola said that is what they intend to do. Scott said he wanted a commitment from the city to accomplish that within five days, saying that the residents are tired of lip service. Scarola said Seattle Public Utilities is committed to picking up the garbage along Myers Way faster, and in the case of needles, within 24 hours.

Mike Ashbrook, director of facility operations for the city, contended that the Myers Way site is not toxic, adding that portable toilets would be brought in, and that a graywater disposal system would be set up. Scarola said the city would provide water services, an onsite case manager, and would establish a community advisory council. Sola Plumacher of the Human Services Department said with case management services on site there would be a better chance of moving people into permanent housing.

None of this was enough for skeptical community leaders, though. One of the other two proposed authorized encampments would be in Georgetown. A South Park resident expressed concern that his neighborhood would become a “superhighway” between the two encampments, pointing out that “as the crow flies” the two sites are only a mile apart. Additionally, concern was voiced that the encampments fly in the face of racial and economic equity, since the neighborhoods are more racially and economically diverse than much of the city.

Chief Wilske said nine additional officers have been added to the Southwest precincts, and that soon there will be more dedicated bike squads. But he said that even outside camps, police are also dealing with squatters in empty homes. One big challenge with the Myers Way location is that it is bordered by unincorporated King County on multiple sides. So, in addition to more city services, SPD and King County need better coordination.

Last week’s announcement of the Myers Way and Georgetown encampments, along with a third in the north end, is part of what Mayor Murray called a strategy to “bridge the gap” until more permanent housing can be created for people who need it. The Myers Way camp is the only one of the three newly authorized encampments that will use tents; the other two are to use “tiny houses.”

30 Replies to "One week after announcing Myers Way encampment, city reps face skeptical community leaders"

  • AmandaKH December 9, 2016 (10:28 am)

    To clarify, I picked up condom wrappers on the school’s playground – the one with a fence around it.  WWRHAH has been actively working with the SPD and Metro for several years on issues surrounding the park.  Roxhill Elementary is now bearing the brunt of these illegal encampment sweeps as people move from the bog to the covered back door area of the school .  The janitor, and principal have picked up needles, condoms and other refuse from the back door area almost every day before the kids come to school.  It is unconscionable that Delridge is asked to host an encampment again with no additional support.  When asked about additional police, we were told “the whole City is asking for more police”.  When asked where drug addicted homeless people are supposed to go, “Up north to the low barrier shelter.”  We are spending $50m a year on .005% of Seattle’s 650,000 population.    That is a lot of money, and some of it needs to be spent on helping the communities asked to host encampments.

    • Steve December 9, 2016 (10:39 am)

      Again it is horrible leadership.  Remember the ten year plan?  What did it do?  Where was the money spent?  It is disturbing the amount of waste the citizens of Seattle allow the council and mayors to perpetuate and tolerate!

  • Steve December 9, 2016 (10:35 am)

    these people do not listen nor are they concern with your legitimate issues with this proposal.  The only way you will finally be listened to is by electing a new city council, mayor, and  king county executive; hopefully this will push people to vote and elect competent leadership into these positions!

    • A D December 9, 2016 (4:19 pm)

      I agree, this is what needs to happen but the pattern of votes over the decades makes this unlikely. I don’t understand voter logic in this area.

  • Seattlite December 9, 2016 (10:44 am)

    Why has Seattle’s homeless population increased  over the past ten years?  Why has Seattle’s and King County’s leaders let the homeless problem get out of control?  Why do hard-working tax payers have to fear for their safety from homeless camps located near residential areas?  Why don’t WA state leaders figure out what to do with the mentally ill homeless?  What are WA state leaders doing about active drug addicts and alcoholics who are homeless?  The homeless are not just good families who are out of a job and actively looking for a new job to pay their own way and their own rent.  I don’t blame the citizens who are speaking out against homeless camps located near residential areas which have a high probability of causing safety concerns for their families.

  • Ron Swanson December 9, 2016 (11:01 am)

    If you really want to get mad about this, I’d encourage you to visit the NE corner of Discovery Park in beautiful Magnolia, and look at all the empty, boarded up buildings that were to have served as homeless housing before the neighbors sued the plan info oblivion.  They’ve been sitting there ever since.  The neighbors have a charming website with many :) emojis to celebrate their victory over compassionate housing.  If the homeless situation is truly an emergency, shouldn’t our richest neighborhoods do their fair share before South Seattle gets dumped on again?  (I’m not even going to mention the entire neighborhood of perfectly functional surplus houses in there torn down recently rather than repurposed for this ’emergency’)

    • John December 9, 2016 (11:35 am)

      Right on Ron,

      But why should trendy Ballard host a homeless site and not West Seattle?   Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, Downtown, First Hill, and the International District residents tolerate more homeless interactions, more often than West Seattleites.

      Too often, the blame is on others and  suggestions are for other areas, as in homelessness is not our problem and we should not allow homeless camps in our neighborhood. 

      Others are ignorant of the widespread homeless problem all the way to Los Angeles with its 82,000 ( http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-homeless-national-numbers-20151120-story.html)

      They want to blame it all on our local elected leaders and governmental agencies.  What would they do to solve the problem that no one else has been able to solve?

      There is an irony in that two of the hot button issues on WSB,  HALA and homeless encampments often have the same groups and individuals crossing sides depending on the issue.  As in, opposition to HALA because it does not require the housing subsidies collected from developers be used to build affordable housing in West Seattle.  Yet the same people  oppose the low income people that would move into the affordable units for being homeless now?  Imagine the uproar if affordable housing was proposed in the Junction, Admiral,  or Fairmount?

    • Your Mom December 9, 2016 (1:21 pm)

      Ron, 

      Distributing the homeless across all neighborhoods including the wealthy folk hoods would require Seattle to actually BE what it claims to be and unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your outlook, Seattle is currently the embodiment of hypocrisy.  

      If Seattle was actually the fair and accepting place it claims it is, yes these homeless camps would be anywhere viable including “wealthy” neighborhoods, and lets face it, at this point most of Seattle is a wealthy neighborhood, maybe not all the residents of those hoods but any new blood better have serious cash.  

      Additionally, developers would be required to include low income housing within their projects instead of paying into a fund that will in turn create more ghettos and deeper economic divide.  

      Its all smoke in mirrors.  I am not going to say Seattle is the most hypocritical place ever, i will say we/they are acting a bit hypocritical.  

      I am not very socialist, i don’t really feel like paying for schools as i do not have kids and mostly detest them.  But if i am going to have to pay for it, lets do it right.  If we are going to have to take care of the homeless, lets do it right.  If we are going to create low income housing in this town, lets do it right.  All they are doing at this point is creating rage and alienating people who may have supported them in the past.  

      Just more chocolate covered pooh.  

      • Seattlite December 9, 2016 (3:23 pm)

        Your Mom…Great comment.  The homeless problem will never be resolved as long as Seattle/KingCounty keep voting in  ideologically driven  people with absolutely no leadership skills (visionaries, decision makers, fiscally conservative budgeteers, make decisions for the people and not for developers or special interests, etc.) .  What will it take to get people to see the light? 

  • Mr Smith Jay December 9, 2016 (11:05 am)

    NO TO CITY RUN CAMPS.  PUT THEM BY AMAZON

    • Jort December 9, 2016 (5:38 pm)

      Suing the city is not going to make the homeless problem go away.

      But definitely keep fighting to prevent any additional housing from being built here to ease the lack of affordable housing supply. That totally makes sense. That’ll sure show those homeless people.

      Again, another thread full of complaints and whining about the mayor and just whining, whining, whining. Look, I get it, homeless people are icky and nobody wants them next to their homes.

      But I’m not hearing any solutions or ideas on how to handle this problem in our city, other than, “well I don’t want to have to look at them!”

      • MsD December 9, 2016 (6:25 pm)

        How is the housing currently being built, and being proposed to be built, in West Seattle easing the lack of affordable housing supply?  Are you referring to the developer fees that are supposed to be used to build affordable housing, or actual units being built that are affordable?  I asked a similar question on the HALA thread and no one responded.  Specifically, a) how many units that fall into the affordable rental price range have been demolished and redeveloped?  b) where were they located geographically?  c) how many new affordable units have been built from the fees imposed on those redevelopments?  d) where are the new units located?

  • Mike December 9, 2016 (11:36 am)

    I’ve been wondering why Discovery park was not chosen as a site. It seems to be one of the few parks with the infrastructure to handle this type of use.

  • Mike December 9, 2016 (11:41 am)

    To restate some numbers here: There are 3,000 un-sheltered people in Seattle, and another 1,500 in areas surrounding Seattle such as White Center. There are three planned camps. So that seems to imply that the camps will need to house more than 1,000 people. This doesn’t seem like a very well thought out plan.

  • Your Mom December 9, 2016 (1:09 pm)

    Was coming south on Meyers a few days ago.  One of the motor homes on the east side is quite far into the street, i am surprised no one has hit it, but also that no one has made them move, ie. the police.  I almost hit it.  

    I do realize how silly my comment is, as if the police would be aloud to do anything about it.  

  • HTB December 9, 2016 (2:00 pm)

    Where I get irritated is that there is never any discussion that the homeless are accountable and owe anything to society. The rhetoric now is something to the effect that “even we there were shelter space, many people can’t or won’t go there so we (society) needs to provide an alternative.”

    Isn’t this the equivalent of blackmail? — “give us approved shelter or we will camp in your parks.” I’m sure they are some hard luck and tragic stories out there, but the vast majority of these campers are either addicts or crazy and I don’t see why the city (and some people on this board) fight so hard for their right to camp outside.

    Look at Bellevue, Tacoma, Everett — none of those cities has the homeless populations that we do.

    The only reason these people are polluting are city is because we allow it.

    • Your Mom December 9, 2016 (2:33 pm)

      HTB.  Those that choose to partially or fully ignore reality would probably call you insensitive or some sort of horrible word that used to be reserved for actual horrible people.  You are right though, nothing is black and white.  

      Make assistance available to those who need it and will take the personal responsibility to make that help effective.  The rest, no matter the percentage of, can kindly show themselves the door.  

      I am fully compassionate to the actual hard luck and tragic stories of some of the people on the streets, I am not at all compassionate to the people who ruin if for the ones in need by being scummy and just wanting a hand out and to live for free on others backs.  

      We can move much faster in “fixing” this but a whole lot more people will need to open their eyes to reality and get the profiteers out of the conversation/room/city.   

      Homelessness may never be solved but we could do a lot more good, if we start from a place of good and reality.  

      In the past couple years i have been a half a step away from homelessness.  I had/have NO ONE to help me, or anyone i would want to ask because. pride.  It came down to choice, live on the street, suck up my pride and move to AZ and live with my parents, which may have only made it worse, plus i am like 40, or take a less glamours and lower paying job to keep myself on my feet.  I chose the latter.  

      As they say, you cant help those who wont help themselves. 

  • WsEd December 9, 2016 (2:50 pm)

    Does anybody have the info for the lawyer the people in Magnolia used to sue the city.  Maybe we should start a political action committee and start a go fund me campaign.

  • mikemahanay December 9, 2016 (4:31 pm)

    Sad. The city, the mayor, and the council, including the newly elected members are rapidly losing their last thread of credibility. The neighborhoods are getting more fed up with them by the day! 

  • Roxy December 9, 2016 (4:56 pm)

    Wow, do any of you take time to talk with homeless folks or perhaps your local Real Change vendor? If you did, you might learn something.

    • Katie December 9, 2016 (7:22 pm)

      What would we learn?  I’m not trying to be nasty here. I was looking at the beautiful snow and thinking how horrible it must be to have nowhere to go. But I’m also sympathetic to people who don’t want to have pick syringes up from their lawns. 

    • Fredman Highland Park December 10, 2016 (10:05 am)

      Roxy, Yes we did talk to them last time round when they were placed in Highland Park for multiple years against our will.  I had to remove one man from my yard who was so intoxicated or under the influence he could barely walk or talk (good times and a great conversation). The great part about that was my three kids and the neighborhood kids got to find him in our yard (that’s harmless and not creepy oh and accepted by you and our city council members). The next time I got to talk to them was a Nickelsville resident in the dead end in front of my house dumping the contents out of the back of his truck onto my property. He got his truck stuck in a ditch on my property then threatened me when I had it towed (that was another awesome chat with the homeless and the police). This was only two of the fun incidents there were many more for our neighborhood during their stay (the drug dealer related car bombing in their parking lot can be used as another highlight). Now with its new location that the city decided to dump on us westcrest Park is already over filled with creepy people hanging out in the woods making it not that attractive of a place to take the dog and kids for a walk. The more money the city wastes on this the more encampments we are going to have. I think encampments are a horrible idea and I’m not sure why the city keeps using our neighborhood for different versions of it. Last time round I also spent time meeting with the committee’s sitting with the last mayor to talk about it and spending all kinds of other time talking about it. I’m very happy that there are other people in the community that are devoted to spending lots of time on it this time around. Because some of us have talked about it so much there’s nothing else to say other than we keep getting screwed.

  • Peter December 9, 2016 (4:59 pm)

    Two thing you can always count on the people of Seattle to do: oppose housing construction and oppose any kind of accommodation for people without housing. 

  • BJG December 9, 2016 (8:42 pm)

    According to NPR’s  All Things Considered in 2015, Seattle’s 10 year public/private partnership known as the Committee to End Homelessness expended a whopping one billion dollars. How much is enough? Seems like that would indicate a civic generosity beyond reproach.  Wish we had something to show for it.

  • Mark December 10, 2016 (7:09 pm)

    Jobs are available, no excuse not to be working.  

    The more the City/County spends the more homeless, WHY?  Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

    It’s time taxpayers send a message enough is enough, with all the money spent the issue should have solved.

  • WestCake December 10, 2016 (10:56 pm)

    Letting people live outside is inhumane at best. 

    • Tom December 11, 2016 (5:46 am)

      letting drug addicts, alcoholics and common criminals dictate policy is insane.I’m all for helping the homeless. To call this a homeless crisis is just wrong. According to the Mayor recently,out of 400 people contacted only 1 in 5 accepted help. We need to differentiate between who is really homeless and who is mentally ill or addicted.Are first priority should be to the truly homeless and the mentally ill.The chronic alcoholic and drug addicts are never going to accept help.The state legislator needs to step in and change the law,and allow the city to commit the mentally ill to  a to a mental health facility. The flow of broken RV’s into the state has to be stopped.If i were to drive around with expired tabs or numerous things wrong on my vehicle. You can bet I would be cited.

      • WSB December 11, 2016 (6:00 am)

        If you are unsheltered, you are unsheltered, however you got there. Applying your logic, a substance abuser or criminal who is sheltered (and many are) is not truly sheltered.

        Also, there are no “mental health facilities” with beds just sitting around empty waiting for a change in the law. And if there were, do you really think any mental illness merits institutionalizing someone? Have you never dealt with one yourself – depression, anxiety, etc.? They can be debilitating.

        Here’s a relatively recent look at the state of things in our county:
        http://www.kingcounty.gov/~/media/depts/executive/performance-strategy-budget/documents/pdf/2015-2016/2015-16Issue_Paper-MentalHealth.ashx

        The current state of things is clearly a mess. Bottom line, however, the people in the RVs, under the bridge, in the woods, ARE people. So how do we help them?

  • Willow December 11, 2016 (9:31 pm)

    There are community members and members of Camp Second Chance that are ready and willing to create a cooperative relationship to learn about the stewardship needs of the property and work toward creating and maintaining a usable green space there (while protecting the wetlands, wildlife and other crucial environmental assets). 

    We have been working on strategies to that end since the first week the camp was there.  Without permission to be there, most of the organizations we have approached for guidance have been unable to commit to helping.  With a city permit, this becomes possible.  A lot of people ask about what benefits the community gets – this could be one.  Another benefit, if the local communities choose to embrace the encampments rather than villainize  them,  is to create a collaborative, caring relationship, which can create a significant change in behavior on both sides.  We need to do something different if we want a different result – and it starts with US in the communities. We have the ability to help make this as positive or as negative a situation as we want it to be.

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