By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The city and county reps on hand at the third “community conversation” about Myers Way-related homelessness issues almost outnumbered the community members who showed up.
But a smaller turnout than the previous “conversation” did not result in fewer questions; this crowd had plenty.
The city’s director of homelessness, George Scarola (above), opened the meeting Monday night at the Joint Training Facility) by recapping what community members had asked it to include – from public-safety information to inclusion of King County reps as well as Seattle reps. They included Brian Smith and Capt. Jessica Sullivan from the city and county 911 programs, respectively, as well as Sgt. Eric Zerr from SPD’s Navigation Team, Southwest Precinct and KC Sheriff’s Office higher-ups, and more.
First to speak was Polly Trout (above) from Patacara Community Services, which has the official city contract to operate now-sanctioned Camp Second Chance. The camp just inside the main gate to the Myers Way Parcels had 44 residents as of Monday night, Trout said, and “things have been very exciting.” We had a CSC update in our coverage of its recent Community Advisory Committee meeting; she recapped some of those toplines, including a case manager, electricity from the city, a potable-water system via an 850-gallon cistern, a gray-water catchment system on the way, Union Gospel Mission‘s shower van coming twice a week, a dental and mobile medical van, and visits by the Seattle Public Library.
She also noted that they hope to replace their tents with tiny houses by November – aiming for 52 “microhomes,” two staff offices and 50 residential units. Since they have to raise private money for those, they have fundraising partner Gregory Marks, who said five are funded and four more are coming, so far.
Trout was asked how many people from CSC had been placed in permanent housing since the camp arrived in this area (originally without authorization, setting up on private property on the east side of Myers and then moving to city property on the west side) last summer. Two per month at one point, she said, but more recently, two since the camp was sanctioned.
The next questioner accused Trout of “stacking the deck” of the Community Advisory Committee with people who were “on (the camp’s) side.” Trout replied that they had chosen people who were “fair and reasonable.” Another person said she hadn’t even heard a selection process was under way. Tom Van Bronkhorst of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods said the committee was required by the ordinance that allowed sanctioned encampments. “We did pass out applications at (the previous) meetings, and 12 or 13 applied, and of those, seven were selected to be on the committee,” but even if you weren’t selected, you are welcome to fully participate in the discussions/meetings, it was stressed. (Next one is at 4 pm June 4th at Arrowhead Gardens, the senior-living complex a few blocks north of CSC.)
Trout said they also had sought geographic balance, including Top Hat, South Delridge, South Park, and also people from the business and faith communities as well as neighbors.
“What was the criteria?” asked another person. “We have three properties” (in the area). “No one contacted us … who decided?” Trout, Van Bronkhorst, and nearby resident Willow Fulton were the deciders, Trout said. The “level of thoughtfulness on the applications” were a major factor, she added.
Next question was about the city having hired consultant Barb Poppe, who did not like the idea of more encampments. Why were they being used anyway? Scarola answered that question, acknowledging that Poppe’s view was that encampment management takes time away from finding permanent housing for people who are unhoused. “But the fact is that finding permanent housing is very difficult in Seattle right now,” and getting harder. Scarola noted that the mayor had decided that bridge housing – tiny homes and tents – was called for, and that’s why they’re using it. “It’s a fair question, but we took a slightly different approach … we have 3,000 people on the street right now and need to make sure we get them help as fast as possible.”
Next topic – trash. Susan Fife-Ferris of Seattle Public Utilities talked about trash pickup at Camp Second Chance, which has regular collection, at least weekly. They also have a contractor who “goes up and down Myers Way and paicks up bags and trash and bulky items … on both sides of street” every Friday. They also are passing out trash bags to RV campers and asking them to set them out on Fridays. (We had been told at the new RV camp off 2nd SW last Friday that someone had given them trash bags.)
They also have contractors who come through the area at least once a week picking up litter and “scattered trash” off the street. Those contractors cannot pick things up from right next to RVs or other vehicles, however, she noted. “If they see it, and the vehicle moves, they’ll pick it up next time they’re out there. … Hopefully you’ve seen some improvement in the last few months.” They also have placed containers in some areas around the city. If you’d like to see a … container located,” SPU can tell you how to request one.
Also, you can report illegal dumping – in this area or anywhere else – via the Illegal Dumping Hotline (it’s here along with a map of what’s been reported), or via the Find It Fix It app. “Our guarantee is that it’ll get picked up within 10 days,” though more often as little as two days, provided it’s on public property.
And the city also has a Sharps Hotline – if you see them on public property, they’ll get picked up within 24 hours. (Here are the details on that.)
A problem described by one attendee is on state land, said another attendee, and the state says they’re not picking up any more, so, he asked, what is the city going to do about it? Scarola said that they’re waiting until the weather improves, and the Navigation Team will be involved with addressing that particular area off Myers Way.
Another attendee asked Fife-Ferris point blank, had she looked at the trash as she drove to the meeting, and did she think it was acceptable? She replied that she wasn’t going to give a grade but if her consultants aren’t doing the job they’re paid to do, she’ll do something about that.
Next question was from someone who said a member of her family was mentally ill and had a hoarding problem and it seemed that there was a double standard between what they had to do about their family member and what standards are – or aren’t – being applied to those on the streets.
Fife-Ferris said that the city is trying to work with people via the Navigation Team to “get them to bag their trash,” and put it in a place where it can be picked up. That’s working for the sanctioned encampments in particular. “We’re not trying to create an alternative approach – we are trying to deal with a difficult issue – we do have many people who are hoarders who are homeless … we are trying to work with them, get the trash picked up, picked up on a regular basis so we can have a cleaner city … We are learning a lot of lessons.”
Scarola then shifted the topic to 911. Brian Smith and Capt. Jessica Sullivan (above), from SPD and KCSO respectively, explained how the calltaking centers work, and how calls are routed. “We take approximately 900,000 calls a year, divided between 911 calls and the police department’s non-emergency number,” he explained.
Capt. Sullivan said her center takes half a million calls a year and routes aid- or fire-related calls to the appropriate jurisdiction. She pointed to a map showing the boundaries. “To us, jurisdiction is determined by where the incident occurred or where the problem is occurring.” It helps if people can describe exactly where that is. If you wait until you’re home to call, the call will be routed to the center that serves your home.
One attendee said that he calls in and explains that incidents happened within the city limits, but is still asked where he lives, and when he says he is in the unincorporated area, he is routed to the county. Smith said that’s “not how it should happen,” and explained that they have added some names to their map so that if for example someone calls in and says something happened at “Camp Second Chance,” the dispatcher will know where that is. “What are the names for the other (unsanctioned) encampments?” the attendee pressed. “Why is it so hard to get SPD response; why do they constantly want to offload to King County?”
“If you tell us that you have an emergency at a certain address, it doesn’t make sense that we would (refer you elsewhere),” Smith said. He said he wants to know if this is still happening, since some changes were made after previous meetings, and that he would give his direct contact number to the person requesting it.
Other attendees asked if they could have a PDF of the map. And they brought up repeated sightings of people who are “shooting up” drugs in the area, saying they want to be able to decide about whether to call in about those people, whether that’s an emergency or not. They also wanted to know how many 911 calls are made about this area and how much money is being spent responding to it. Capt. Sullivan said the KCSO data is available via CrimeReports.com – that information is turned around in 24 to 48 hours – though she didn’t know how fast SPD’s mapped data is available. (Usually, we can say, call types and locations are available same-day, but further details are not available online for most calls.)
Are people who make reports in jeopardy of having their identities known? they were asked. Short answer: No.
Next person to speak: Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis, who was accompanied by Operations Lt. Ron Smith and Community Police Team Officer Todd Wiebke, who deals with homelessness-related issues for the SW precinct’s jurisdiction. Capt. Davis offered some statistics: “Crime in this area ebbs and flows … I’m going to say (this) quite ferociously, we have had nothing but cooperation from the Second Chance camp. … not many incidents of crime issues coming from that camp.” He had words of praise for Trout, and she grabbed the microphone to say, “It’s all the camp, it’s not me.” (Second Chance is a self-managed camp, aside from Trout’s nonprofit having the city contract to operate it; at the recent advisory-committee meeting, she had said that CSC would eventually become a nonprofit all its own.)
Capt. Davis said SPD is in collaboration with state entities to “clear issues” regarding what’s happening on the aforementioned land across the street, down the slope. “The residual blight we see down there is substantial … unfortunately these are some individuals who tend to … do a lot of different types of activity in our neighborhoods.” He said 911 reports “have to be made … because that helps us direct the type of responses and resources that we possibly can to those areas.” Issues that are the subject of complaints go to the Navigation Team, he said, while also acknowledging that as camps are cleared, the problem is “just moved along.”
With the reported success of the Navigation Team – more than two-thirds of those contacted accepted some services, the City Council recently was told – “it sounds like we need more Navigation Teams,” one attendee said.
The next person wanted to know whether SPD and WSDOT are working together to get a fence between the slope on which people are camping and the freeway.
And then it was brought up that someone has a “makeshift mechanic operation” going on the side of the road. “Why is nothing being done about that?” he demanded.
Officer Wiebke said he had told someone there that he needed to move – “but there are different people associated with” the site. “When I show up, I ask people, is this vehicle operational, and I tell them, they have 2 1/2 hours,” and he’ll come back and arrange for them to be towed if he has to. “I’ve impounded probably more cars than anyone in the city in the past year and a half.”
Next, Sgt. Jeff Cunningham from KCSO said the crime stats for the encampment vicinity are not any higher than the rest of White Center. A neighbor said they have nothing but praise for KCSO, compared to SPD. The next person wondered why some crimes weren’t showing up on CrimeReports.com, and some discussion of what it displays and what it doesn’t ensued. Then came a question about people hearing gunfire. The White Center/Burien area had 52 such reports in the first three months of the year, said Sgt. Cunningham. Though most had no victims, they have arranged for “extra patrols” in hopes of getting to those calls as quickly as possible. The shooters are usually in cars and hard to find unless someone sees and can describe a vehicle. The sergeant also explained the process of citing someone for trespassing.
Then Sgt. Zerr, who heads up the SPD Navigation Team, explained their “experiment of coupling 8 police officers with 12 social workers.” They refer people to encampments such as Second Chance in some cases, and to shelters, such as Mary’s Place for families, when appropriate. Regarding the earlier question about fencing, he said he had done a safety evaluation of the site earlier in the year, and said that will be done again when the weather gets dryer. The area will likely be scheduled for cleanup in June-July, he said. “It’ll get cleaned all the way from the church to the south – you’ll see a significant difference when that happens.”
“So when you clean it all up, how are you going to keep it clean?” he was asked.
“There are two things we’re doing a lot of … when it’s structural … we fence that area,” like underneath the West Seattle Bridge by East Marginal/Spokane. “There are other areas we’ve just fenced or repurposed … other agencies have taken that property to make parks or boneyards for Sound Transit or …”
“This is trees,” not structure. “A few months ago, you went through, cleaned it all out, and now it’s back. … Why do we as taxpayers have to continue to pay for this?”
“That’s deeper than” his charter, said Sgt. Zerr, adding that he would suggest two things for this site: Under the city’s new rules, there are ten “emphasis areas” around the city (here’s a map), which means “there’s no camping there” – so you can push city leadership to designate it as such, because of the issues. Also, he said he’ll suggest “fencing along Myers Way .. and if we can do it on 509, I don’t know if we can, that would be something.” He said there’s not much entry/exit from 509.
The next person brought up the new RV encampment off 2nd SW between W. Marginal Way SW and Highland Park Way SW, and the followup about it that we published back on Friday. (She was the only person to bring up this new camp.) She said she wants to see RVs off the street, and has tried to report them, but isn’t getting anywhere. “I have people coming through my yard …” She mentioned RVs close to Chief Sealth International High School and hasn’t gotten any traction with asking that they be moved. “Someone has to get rid of these RVs.”
Sgt. Zerr said that’s not a Navigation Team issue – the RV issues are to be sent to precincts. “They can do 72-hour notices.” The woman continued, “That never works. Children are walking to school, right past the RVs.” Officer Wiebke explained that if the RVs move at some point during a 72-hour window, the clock starts all over again. If there’s no crime being committed, “it’s a social problem, not a police problem. To say we’re being inattentive is not correct.” He said they will be out giving 72-hour notices again, “they’ll move a block or two, and they’ll be right back.” The resident continued expressing frustration.
“What are the dealbreakers that will get them towed?” Wiebke was asked. The 72-hour notice is hard, he said. And he said he has to prioritize issues and can’t necessarily deal with every motor home in an area from Alki to the Duwamish River to Myers Way – “we are applying our resources as best we can and I’m going to be fair and honest with everybody, (if I) tow somebody or arrest somebody without probable cause, I’ll be in one of the tents.”
The questioning then veered away from this area to a question about homelessness downtown.
And after that, a man who identified himself as formerly homeless said he was glad to see everyone here “to try to alleviate the problem,” and noted that the way to do that is to get involved. Camp Second Chance – drug- and alcohol-free – “is the way to go,” he said, while noting that it’s “understaffed.” He said that having so many people experiencing homelessness in our area “is something new – it’s unprecedented,” and he urged that everyone work together positively. Asked his name, he said he is Greg Marks (the donor mentioned by Trout toward the meeting’s start).
The next person said that people should be telling elected officials that it’s a priority to put homeless people into emergency housing. Scarola noted that reps for County Council Chair Joe McDermott and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold were in attendance.
At that point, it was 8:30 pm, the announced end time of the meeting; it was officially adjourned, but conversations continued, one on one or in small groups, with and without city/county reps, around the room.