By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Camp Second Chance residents who gathered Wednesday afternoon to hear from city reps and their future fiscal agent/operator had one main question:
Will they be allowed to keep their self-imposed rules under new management – particularly, no drugs and alcohol?
They did not get an immediate commitment from Sharon Lee of the Low-Income Housing Institute, which is expected to assume the city contract that is currently held by Patacara Community Services, withdrawing from its management of the city-sanctioned camp after questions about the status of privately donated money, as first reported here last Friday.
At multiple times during Wednesday’s meeting, held under a canopy on the camp’s fenced site at the city-owned Myers Way Parcels, Lee said it was too soon for her to be able to say how things will work once her organization takes over, expected to happen at the start of September.
But the rule is imperative for the camp’s survival, she was told.
One resident suggested that the visitors from LIHI and the city Human Services Department spend a night at the camp. “You’ll see what comes to (the camp’s) gate, what happens outside it, and you’ll see why we don’t allow what happens outside to come inside.”
That was a reference to the unsanctioned campers along Myers Way, in RVs that line the road to the camp’s north, in tent camps on the slopes between the other side of the road and Highway 509 below. While some see Camp Second Chance and its rules as an oasis of sorts, others see its presence as a magnet pulling more to the area outside that gate.
The camp was founded at a South King County church in April 2016, by campers who left Tent City 3 after a disagreement about management. After three months, it moved to Myers Way, first taking over a privately owned site on the east side of the street, then onto city-owned land without authorization, eventually becoming a sanctioned encampment this past spring, after the city decided to expand the roster of camps it funds.
In the city rules set up for sanctioned camps, they are authorized for a year and then if all is considered to be going well, a second year at the same location is offered. Though it had been suggested at various community meetings that the clock on CSC should have been running earlier than the start of its sanctioned status this past March, city reps said at this meeting that March 2019 would be the sunset of the Myers Way site, if it is deemed to be worthy of a renewal.
And that is not a sure bet, campers were warned at the meeting by the HSD manager who did most of the city talking, Adrienne Easter; she said repeatedly that the current options also included having CSC revert to unsanctioned status.
Most of the meeting, however, was relatively low-tension. Easter stressed at the start that the meeting was not about grievances but rather intended as a chance to speak to residents about the management status. (Our rough count when a show of residents’ hands was requested indicated at least 15 present; the last camp count we heard, at the July meeting of the Community Advisory Council, was 50+.)
Easter also underscored that, as the funder – Patacara’s contract has been for $208,000 a year – “the city is in charge of the decisions that are made,” so the meeting was not intended for any sort of vote or consensus on handing CSC off to LIHI, which is involved with management of the city’s five other sanctioned encampments, and therefore “experienced.” She said the city wanted to “move forward so we can start referring people again,” though there was no explanation whether that meant referring people to CSC or referring them out of it.
After LIHI leader Lee was introduced, she offered some background on her organization, saying it is nationally known for its work, including what it’s done with “tiny-house village” encampments, now that the city council and mayor have “legalized” encampments. LIHI is primarily a “housing nonprofit,” however, she added, with 2,000 apartments in its portfolio, housing people including 375 who had previously been homeless. LIHI also has three Urban Rest Stops, she noted.
She acknowledged that Camp Second Chance residents had expressed concerns that SHARE/WHEEL and/or Nickelsville – LIHI’s partners in operating the other sanctioned encampments – would become involved with CSC. “The answer is no,” she said, which drew cheers and applause.
But that was the only firm answer she gave to key questions asked by campers about CSC’s future. Lee said she had not seen CSC’s code of conduct (it’s online) or house rules, “but we want to start the transition so this village can stay open.” And she made repeated mention of LIHI’s experience with tiny houses – which CSC had hoped would replace its tents by winter, with privately donated funding.
Lee opened the floor relatively quickly to Q&A. One camper wanted to know if LIHI would only have the contract through next March so that the camp could then make its own decision about who to partner with; this was an apparent reference to a prospective operator that was suggested by the camp as a successor for Patacara, but rejected by the city because of a lack of experience running camps.
HSD’s Easter said the city does not have a process in place for seeking bids for 2018 – if LIHI takes over , and if a second year is warranted, it would keep the contract.
Some questions were specific to individual campers – one said he was approved for “rapid rehousing” but was having trouble finding a place to move into, despite being “ready to go.” But the issue of camp rules arose again; Lee said, “We applaud you for trying to keep (the camp) drug- and alcohol-free – we would work with you to see how that works.”
The questions about camp management then got more granular. A man who identified himself as a co-founder of the camp said the contract they signed with Patacara included an on-site camp manager – that was Eric Davis, also a co-founder, evicted almost two weeks ago amid allegations he said were made by Patacara’s Polly Trout after he asked about the donated money’s status. According to e-mail exchanges forwarded to us, community supporters of the camp had asked that Davis be allowed to attend the Wednesday meeting, but the city asked that he stay away, and he did.
Lee said she understood that Patacara had had three full-time employees working at the camp, including Davis, and “I have to look at that” regarding how LIHI would structure the camp’s management.
Easter interjected at that point that the city hadn’t mandated the staff structure, and it would indeed be up to LIHI, as the recipient of the city funding. “We’re really, really new” at learning about CSC, Lee said, “we want staffing that’s appropriate.”
She also cited newness for not yet having the answers to another resident’s question about whether they would have access to more than one shower a week – provided by a visiting vehicle from the Union Gospel Mission – and whether more men’s clothing would be made available. “Because I really need some,” the man said.
And then the issue of co-founders getting booted by Patacara resurfaced, with police called in multiple instances to tell them they were trespassing and needed to leave. How could they be trespassing on city land? asked the resident.
Easter repeated that they would have to save their “grievances” for “another time.”
“And when would that be?” someone called from the crowd. No answer.
That’s when it was suggested that city and LIHI reps come see what it’s like at night – this, too, had context unspoken, that we have heard in other conversations about the situation – concern that LIHI wouldn’t have as much security for the camp. But the city reps promised that “we will work with you, you will work with LIHI as a self-managed camp.”
In response, co-founder Chris declared that the camp “is looking forward to moving on from Patacara to LIHI” – applause followed that declaration – and then emphasized, “We are a self-governing entity here. … We have built something from nothing. Are we going to keep the people here, are we going to be allowed to (remove) the ones who do not want to follow the rules?”
Lee stressed one more time, “We are behind self-government,” without committing, yet, to specifics. And then the meeting broke up for dinner, which her staffers had brought in, and for one-on-one conversations here and there around the tent.
WHAT’S NEXT: The August meeting of the Camp Second Chance Community Advisory Committee – postponed without explanation in early August, before the current upheaval came to light – has just been rescheduled, according to e-mail from Tom Van Bronkhorst of the city Department of Neighborhoods. Here’s the announcement:
When: Sunday, August 27 – 2:00 pm
Where: Arrowhead Gardens Welcome Center, 9220 2nd Ave SW
We will cover the following agenda items:
• Welcome and meeting structure review
• Introductions of CAC and key presenters
• Current camp status
• Updates from Operator
• Updates from Camp
• Updates from City
• Questions, comments, concerns from CAC members
• Public comment