By Clifford Cawthon
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The expansion of Camp Second Chance on Myers Way in southeast West Seattle as a city-authorized encampment has begun.
In the month-plus since an emergency mayoral order created three new authorized encampments including this one, the city has been finalizing a contract with Patacara Community Services to operate the camp, which continues to draw support from residents as well as concerns from the surrounding community, while growing and maturing as a clean-and-sober homeless encampment. (Here’s our coverage of the most recent city-organized meeting about it, on February 1st.)
This week, George Scarola, the city’s director of homelessness, confirmed to WSB that the operating agreement for Camp Second Chance had “a few steps still remain (ing), but the agreement is close.” This process includes permits and agreements as well as a framework that Patacara will operate under while administering the camp in its partnership with the city.
Ahead of the finalization of the agreement, the following improvements have already been made:
*Trash cleanup with dumpsters
*Improving kitchen sanitation
*Expanding with adequate toilet services
In addition to improving services once the city contract is completed, they will be able to hire a case manager to help incoming tenants of the camp transition into long-term housing. The camp will also install potable-water cisterns to provide clean water on site. Scarola also confirmed that “as it does in the three existing encampments the city will provide … gray-water receptacles, access to electricity for common areas (kitchen, community tent, office, etc.) and platforms to keep tents or tiny homes off the ground … the City will begin paying for [amenities] once the contract is signed. Platforms [for the new modifications] are scheduled to be built over the next few weeks.”
The plan for the three encampments – first announced in December – was considered both a game-changer and a temporary solution until the mayor’s Pathways Home program is implemented: “The goal of Pathways Home is to transform our current homeless resources into an integrated system,” says Scarola, with the ultimate goal of moving more un-sheltered people into secure, long-term housing more quickly.
Polly Trout, executive director of Patacara, told WSB that residents of Camp Second Chance have been doing just that: “All along, about 10% of camp residents have been moving indoors (each) month, which is awesome.”
As of this week, the camp has 20+ residents (in WSB’s last visit it was estimated at 25) and the city plans to allow up to 50 units expected to host 60-70 people. Outreach for additional residents is expected to start tomorrow; this past week, a WSB reader noticed the addition of tents and a fence on the north side of the camp’s site this week (confirmed by the top photo).
None of these improvements have come cheap, however. For the last month, Patacara has been fundraising in order to provide the first month’s operating expenses upfront and has has reached out to private donors; which, Trout said that she was grateful for the generosity that has led them to achieve their goal and operate since April 2016 – first on the grounds of a church in South King County before moving to Myers Way, where they have been – without authorization until now – since last summer. The site is city-owned land that was once proposed to be sold for commercial development; advocates campaigned against that, and the mayor decided not to sell it. That was before the arrival of the camp. Advocates want planning to start in the meantime for the site’s future as parkland, but it is not under Seattle Parks management so far.
Whether for or against the camp, it will be on the site for at least a year, with the prospect of renewal for a second year. Trout is optimistic: “When [Camp Second Chance] first moved in, the neighbors were worried that the camp would make things worse in the neighborhood because there were already a lot of people camping in the greenbelt along Myers Way.” She says some initial skeptics have become supporters. Meantime, Southwest Precinct police have indicated the areas of Myers Way that are not part of the Camp Second Chance site are being, and will be, addressed.
Sweeps of unauthorized encampments were challenged in court, but U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez recently denied the ACLU’s request for a restraining order to stop the sweeping of unauthorized camps that the city deems hazardous. One such camp is “The Field,” an encampment at Royal Brougham and Airport Way S. at the foot of the International District. It was recently announced that it would be cleared and cleaned, due to safety concerns, despite it being originally identified as an alternative to the camp known as “the Jungle” that was cleared last year.
Regarding Myers Way and Camp Second Chance, we’ll continue to follow up on how other issues are addressed, including contamination on the site, where kiln dust was dumped years ago. Meantime, safety concerns come up at just about every regular community meeting where the SW Precinct has representatives to answer questions, most recently at the February West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting.