By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Big concerns about a big change at city-sanctioned Camp Second Chance were voiced at this month’s meeting of its Community Advisory Committee.
While the last meeting, in August, had filled the meeting room at Arrowhead Gardens, just a few blocks north of the camp, Sunday’s meeting barely cracked double digits – counting the three committee members who were in attendance (Willow Fulton, an area resident; Aaron Garcia, from the White Center Community Development Association; Grace Stiller, who works with environmental nonprofits).
The city was represented by Tom Van Bronkhorst from the Department of Neighborhoods.
Early in the meeting, Stiller offered kudos to the city for the fencing placed on the east side of Myers Way to protect wetlands as well as those walking in the area, particularly to and from the transit center at Arrowhead Gardens; Van Bronkhorst went into some background on the fencing, and said that trash pickups are also continuing on the east side of Myers, where RVs have recently been swept.
The big change for Camp Second Chance itself since last meeting: The Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is now the camp operator, as of September, with executive director Sharon Lee and staffer Josh Castle arriving mid-meeting after a conflicting engagement elsewhere.
Before their arrival, Rebecca, a camp resident, told the advisory committee that the transition had not gone well.
“There’s been a problem with establishing sovereignty (with LIHI) – letting the camp have governing power – they threatened us that they would pull support if we made a decision on letting an individual back into camp, and there’s a supply list discrepancy, with getting supplies in a timely fashion” – they ran out of toilet tissue and had to “address that in an emergency fashion … to get supplies that we urgently needed. We also have requested tents, tarps, and roofing materials … that have not been supplied. We haven’t been assigned a case manager yet – they haven’t come through with that either.” Also, she said, they previously had pest control coming in to address the rat problem but that’s not being funded and the contract has ended so “there’s not any pest control at this time. … Whatever funding the city is giving to LIHI, we need to see a budget where they’re going to pay for these things.”
The camp currently has about 63 residents, Rebecca said. Asked for more details about the supply problem, she said the problem may be in part due to the fact that LIHI hasn’t established a centralized point of communication. “We’ve kind of lost control of camp … everyone has the idea that they’re going to fix it themselves, and so we’ve lost centralized control.” One person, camp co-founder Chris, is trying to serve as camp director but it’s not a paid position (as it had been before previous operator Patacara‘s withdrawal) and is “overwhelmed,” Rebecca said, adding that LIHI telling them they can’t vote to re-admit a previously evicted member (who she didn’t identify, but community supporters had said in correspondence earlier in the week that it’s Eric Davis, the former camp manager booted by previous operator Patacara).
Rebecca said the fact that LIHI “didn’t give back the self-governance aspect” – which had been critical to CSC’s operations – has led to a lot of confusion and turmoil, “so it needs to be addressed.”
Van Bronkhorst asked Rebecca whether there’s been police activity at the camp. She said, yes, there have been calls to police because of disagreements and “people have been led to believe they don’t have to follow the rules … we can’t enforce ‘bars’ [people being barred from the camp] because LIHI wants to review all ‘bars’ first … one gentleman in particular called police when he was confronted about refusing to do a security shift … and there were two incidents of people fighting with each other … people are confused about the future of the camp.”
Committee member Stiller said there was an intake person from LIHI at the camp when she visited one recent day; Rebecca said there’s not someone there every day.
Committee member Fulton said it would be good if someone from the camp board could be at each CAC meeting with a current list of needs.
Committee member Garcia asked if a date is set yet for the next promised city-organized community meeting about all this. Van Bronkhorst said, not yet. As for the rest of the issues that Rebecca mentioned – he said he wasn’t familiar with the contract details. But when asked about a copy of the contract, he referred the inquirer to the city Human Service Department‘s Lisa Gustaveson.
And with that, LIHI’s Lee and Castle arrived. Lee began with a “quick update” – which seemed to correlate what camper Rebecca had told the committee: “We were pretty much asked by the city to serve in a capacity so Camp Second Chance could stay open – we are still trying to get our footing there, so to speak – I will say that the first month, our experience, we had significant issues with violence, threat of violence, and we called the police numerous times. We have trespassed two people … had (two people) arrested … there have been issues with safety and security, ongoing, so we’ve been somewhat distracted with having to address people being barred, threatening violence, undertaking violence … it was not very smooth sailing. We are advertising for a case manager and doing interviews. We have taken some people who were threatened with violence and moved them to hotels, taken some people and moved them to housing.” Those moved to hotels, she said, can’t be there indefinitely – they’ve tried to move both the aggressor and the victim out, and said that had happened “on numerous occasions.”
Lee said they are trying to get the city to address the funding level for next year – this year, the contract Patacara received was just over $200,000, likely for the year starting in March. $79,000 of that remained when LIHI took over, Lee said. She also said they’re concerned about tiny houses, supplies, and food issues, “with winter coming up.” She said they have been advocating with the city for additional case-management funding but might have to go to City Council for that.
Regarding the tiny houses, she said one camper reportedly had paid for his own tiny house but he had been arrested and barred from the camp so they’ve been trying to sort that out. “We don’t want tiny houses in private ownership” – leading to people feeling they needed to stay at the camp. She handed the microphone over to Castle, who said that Brad Gerber, who’s been working with him at LIHI on tiny houses, has been visiting the camp to assess conditions – including whether some tents need replacement. He said he has a list from Gerber: CSC has 10 tiny houses, but “many of them need to get insulated – we have people who want to come and help with that … There’s about 30 tents there and about half of them need to be replaced, there’s a feeling they’re not good quailty enough to get through the winter we know is coming …” And then, they want to ultimately replace all tents with tiny houses, which had long been Camp Second Chance’s goal. He said that “generosity” from all over the city, county, country, and world is enabling them to handle that. “So basically we’re planning to do that.”
He mentioned Alki UCC’s $21,000 donation for tiny houses at the camp and said that would cover almost 10 of them – that will be used for materials. “I’m hearing some personal stories that people are cold in the tents that they’re in.”
With LIHI management now in the room, Fulton asked camper Rebecca to re-explain the supply situation. LIHI’s Lee explained that some of the tent problems include “design issues” related to tarps and the platforms. Regarding other supply issues, Lee asked who they were notified. Rebecca said that a person was assigned to address the supply list but told them that they would have to wait for two weeks because that’s when that person goes for them. Lee promised to follow up and asked if there were current needs; Rebecca said they probably had a week’s supply of toilet paper, for example. Lee said that LIHI’s Mary Cunningham is the person in charge of ordering things and they should set things up to get orders in on a timely basis. Castle also suggested another name for the camp to contact.
In general, Castle acknowledged, they need to set up a regular meeting with Camp Second Chance, as they have with other encampments with which they are involved, and supplies would be a topic there, including anything urgent such as the CSC tissue crisis. Shortly afterward, he promised that they would set a date next week.
Lee underscored that they have “to be organized and punctual” so that supplies don’t run out, particularly on weekends, “so that we’re not ending up on a weekend with a many-episode crisis about propane, or toilet paper, things like that.”
About the rat situation, Lee said, “this is a situation where we try to find out as many contracts as possible …” For example, she said, Patacara pulled the Honey Buckets when their contract ended “and we had to order portapotties right back in,” and they had to figure out contracts for other services and get things in LIHI’s name. “I’m not even sure we were aware of the pest control – I don’t know who would have told us. Somebody tell us who the company is – we’re happy to…”
Castle said that they have pest/rat control at other camps so there’s no reason they wouldn’t do that for Camp Second Chance.
Lee asked Van Bronkhorst if he knows when the one-year expiration date is for the camp, before they do all kinds of work and then find out “the camp implodes, or the neighbors don’t want it there, or …” Castle gave the context that two other encampments (outside West Seattle) are being moved right now.
Will they have a full-time case manager at CSC? Lee said that there’s “very little money in the city budget” for operating the camp; Patacara had been raising a portion of the camp budget itself, “and now that’s not going to get raised,” so she wants to hear budget information for next year before making some of those decisions. Priority 1, she said, is winterization. But if putting in more tiny houses “isn’t important to you” – the camp – “we can just skip it, and put in a site coordinator.” Garcia asked Van Bronkhorst, as the lone city rep at the meeting, if he could work with LIHI to be sure that budget issue for next year gets worked out sooner rather than later. Van Bronkhorst said the HSD would be the most appropriate department.
Lee suggested that if it turns out the city budget isn’t adequate, the Community Advisory Committee might want to lobby the City Council, especially West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold (who is now in charge of the budget process). She notes that for example, the city isn’t funding tiny houses, isn’t funding hygiene services, isn’t funding food – and in a place that is isolated from services such as Myers Way, that doesn’t seem appropriate. Lee said they’ve had “other experiences” with encampment advisory committees advocating for that.
Castle mentioned the city budget hearings coming up October 5th and November 1st, “both opportunities – get there early to sign in – a lot of people are going to be there – a chance to talk with all the councilmembers about what you feel the priorities are … funding for meals, funding for case management, funding for tiny houses, it’s an opportunity to talk about all that.”
Committee member Stiller brought up CSC’s self-governance rules with a paid staff member in charge and the difficulty of all that changing – “I hope it’s not going to be either or, either a site coordinator or a case management person.” Castle said they would “take that information back.” Garcia then brought up something else camper Rebecca had said, the “power dynamic” and the resulting turmoil.
Lee said that they had initially sent out a letter saying “all bars had to be approved by us” because “we were very concerned that people were arbitrarily or unfairly barred, so we wanted to get some sense of how things were working … We do have some concerns about camp leadership at this time, we’ve seen favoritism … unfair (application) of the rules … we haven’t quite figured out exactly how it can be solved, but it is a problem right now.”
That’s when Rebecca spoke up and said that the problem indeed is contributing to unrest at the camp and the reasons that police have had to be called. “We definitely need to figure that out.”
Meantime, Castle answered the question of whether the city and LIHI had signed a contract – they have, though they are still “working out some details of the management plan.” Lee said she is happy to share the contract, which includes the city’s expected outcomes.
Is the camp on track to meeting those goals?
“Of course not!” Lee declared immediately and then backtracked a bit, saying that Human Services’ targets were really “aspirational goals” rather than realistic one. “That’s the problem, that we have so many people at all the shelters, all the traditional housing programs, and all the other encampments – ‘oh, we’re all exiting people to those 10 units that are available’.”
Nearby resident Carol then brought up the ongoing concerns about the unsanctioned encampments on the slopes across Myers Way and wondered whether CSC was indeed, as they’d heard, not calling 911 if they heard or saw problems such as gunshots. LIHI’s Castle said he’s been in contact with SPD and would like to see at least an occasional visit to the advisory committee meetings with updates about the general meeting.
Before the meeting wrapped, Rebecca said that regarding violence, such things didn’t happen until the “recent past” – the transition, and the resulting “unrest in camp.” She said that campers want to meet with LIHI to talk about the self-governance issues. Lee said that she appreciates hearing from Rebecca and that what she heard was “there were some people waiting for the Patacara contract to be over so they could re-enter the camp.” But, Rebecca said, “we were functioning as a self-governing camp until now, and it was working … we didn’t have a problem with violence, or having to call the police, or the fairness of our ‘bars’.”
Castle said, “The bottom line … there can’t be violence going on in the camp, there can’t be unfair treatment – we had experience with this with (other camps) regarding autonomy … we believe in that model and that’s what we want to have in place.” Communication will be really important, camper Rebecca agreed, saying the establishment of regular meetings with LIHI will be vital.
OTHER NEWS: WCCDA’s Garcia said they’re hiring a staffer who will work on issues including affordable housing, and that WCCDA is leading a summit November 4th (time not yet set) at Evergreen High School on “Growth Without Displacement.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Fulton mentioned this Thursday’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting, which will focus on Myers Way homelessness-related issues, with guests expected to include Seattle’s homelessness director George Scarola and King County Sheriff John Urquhart – 7 pm October 5th at North Highline Fire District HQ (1243 SW 112th), all welcome.
NEXT MEETING: The advisory committee’s next meeting will be Sunday, November 5th, likely 2 pm, Arrowhead Gardens – the time might change if necessary for LIHI and campers to be present for the entire meeting, as was not the case this time.