By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Getting more campers out of tents and into tiny houses before winter was a recurring theme of this month’s Community Advisory Committee meeting for Camp Second Chance, the city-sanctioned encampment on the Myers Way Parcels.
At the front of the Arrowhead Gardens meeting room as the meeting began Sunday afternoon were two committee members, Willow Fulton and Cinda Stegner. Josh Castle was there for LIHI, the camp’s city-contracted operator, and one city rep was there, Tom Van Bronkhorst from the Department of Neighborhoods.
CAMP UPDATES: Speaking as an unofficial liaison for the camp, while delivering its official updates, David Baum introduced three board members as well as camp manager Eric Davis. (The presence of Davis was newsworthy in itself; he is a founder and former paid employee of the camp who was controversially booted by the original camp operator Patacara before its withdrawal.)
Baum presented what he described as “a short statistical report about activities at the camp.” That included its current camper count:
46 people were registered as of Sunday, up five from last month’s meeting. “The camp is working to add people, and succeeding, to the extent where there’s only one or two vacant tents,” he said. The residents are 30 men, 16 women, including 8 couples (up one from last month). They’ve been tracking intakes and departures from camp, “primitively,” warned Baum, because, without a case manager currently, they are not using the official tracking systems. CSC had 12 intakes, 8 departures “for various reasons” in November. “There are 40 different kinds of homes – 8 tiny houses delivered and built by LIHI, 13 built earlier this year by CSC, “motorcycle-garage” type tents, and 17 regular tents, “some very sturdy, some on the verge of falling apart.”
Incident reports and bars: Permanent bars (kicked out of CSC) during November, 4 – a camper missed security shifts twice and was barred; someone stood outside the camp hollering at visiting donors during his bar, which led to permanent barring. Someone else was barred for violating smoking rules; someone else barred for providing Xanax to someone else in the parking lot. There was a two-week bar for a couple observed as “intoxicated” within camp – explained by methadone treatment – and also missed security shifts. They are back in camp as of two days ago and warned that further violation will result in a permanent bar. Three-day bars “are fairly routine” – missing security shifts (handling some of those shifts is a requirement for staying at CSC).
Yesterday five members of Eco-Builders Guild came to CSC to evaluate their microhomes, and will be providing ideas about cost-effecive ways to insulate the microhomes. “We’re trying to find a cheap way to do it.” On December 15th, LIHI is going to bring nine shelter-lodging tents, and a volunteer work party will get them built (more on that shortly).
Three Christmas dinners are on the calendar: December 16th with SPD Officer Todd Wiebke, December 23, LOVE Wins LOVE, also bringing PATH with Art (including a choir) and on Christmas Day, the Westside Interfaith Network (or one of its churches) will serve breakfast and Fare Start will bring dinner.
LIHI REPORT: Josh Castle reported that they’ve added eight fully insulated tiny houses, and are adding electricity to all the tiny houses. The solar installer who did installations for their Ballard camp, which is moving soon to Northlake, wants to donate and add solar to CSC. “We’re aware that the kitchen tent needs” improvements and/or replacement, but LIHI is currently prioritizing winterizing tiny houses. “We also just started working with a contractor to take care of the pest and rodent issue.” They have someone working on the piping in the kitchen tent.
Castle also said they’re close to hiring a case manager, who they hope to have on board within a few weeks. They also expect to have a site coordinator by the next CAC meeting; “we’re looking at candidates right now.” And they have a huge work party on December 15th – they’re bringing the insulated “super tents” – “winter is coming and we have to make sure we’re ready for it,” until they can replace all the tents with tiny houses. It’s all volunteers, and they hope to have at least 50, “maybe even 100.” It’ll be happening 10 am-4 pm at the camp (9701 Myers Way S.), and all are welcome.
How have things been at the camp? “Peaceful and quiet,” said Davis, going on to describe the atmosphere as “serene,” saying he thinks police having cleared Myers Way outside the camp is largely to thank. “To be able to walk up and down Myers Way and have it lit up and not have dogs jumping out of RVs … it’s a lot safer.”
Myers Way resident Fred Miller wondered how the decrease in RVs along the street came about. Van Bronkhorst mentioned Officer Wiebke’s efforts in the area, and also the city enforcing the 72-hour rule. Miller also mentioned noticing more structure-building happening in the greenbelt across Myers.
Van Bronkhorst said he’ll bring that up with colleagues.
Also regarding that greenbelt, Liz Giba from North Highline asked if the city and state are working together to ensure that not too much damage is being done on that side of the street. Van Bronkhorst said that the city and state are talking but he doesn’t know how much of it is about environmental impacts; he will do what he can to find out. Fulton wondered if the Navigation Team regularly checks to look for danger there. Van Bronkhorst said he knows they’ve been “down there” at least twice. Has anyone talked about setting up regular visits to areas known to have “large populations”? Fulton asked on followups. “There are so many illegal encampments in the city that they are prioritized,” Van Bronkhorst replied, “based upon a number of factors … (including) the perception of danger.” In some areas, for example, camps will be cleared – and then shortly thereafter, they’re re-populated. “It would be great to get to a point where we’re not just reactive, but proactive,” Fulton said.
Pat Price from Boulevard Park said she had been seeing an increase in trash along Highway 509. Maybe the EPA, with federal funding, would like to get involved, or perhaps an organization like ECOSS that is already working in the greater Duwamish area?
Van Bronkhorst mentioned the city’s pilot garbage-collection program.
A local housed resident mentioned asking Councilmember Lisa Herbold recently who is in charge of the public health of encampments. He’s being put in touch with the county. Van Bronkhorst said they’re keeping a close watch on concerns such as hepatitis given the crisis in Southern California – hand-washing is a big way to prevent that, and so they are working on increasing availability of handwashing stations. Fulton also suggested vaccination might be a good tactic if appropriate and available.
A West Seattleite identifying herself as a longtime camp advocate asked Castle to describe the “site coordinator” position for which he had said they were recruiting. He replied it’s someone who works with the camp to be sure they have all the supplies they need, and “whatever needs they have, could be filled.” It’s a part-time position.
The advocate noted that Eric Davis had been a camp leader since the beginning, and that position had been paid, so where does that stand? “He’s somebody who’s there full time and a half.”
“We know that we have the budget to pay for a part-time site coordinator and a full-time case manager, and that’s what we’re hiring right now,” Castle replied. He acknowledged that there’s a “desire” for a full-time site coordinator/manager, “but right now there’s not the budget for that … but we think we’re going to find somebody who’s pretty amazing for the role. … When it comes time to look at the budget for next year … we are exploring those kinds of options.”
The camp advocate said the position is invaluable. (Davis himself made a pitch for it before the meeting ended.)
Van Bronkhorst then noted that someone had asked at the last meeting about how the city could support LIHI in getting more tiny houses built, and that they are talking about it.
Castle said that they have a lot of people who want to build tiny houses but they don’t have a physical place to do that, so once they work that out, the program could really take off. He also noted that Mayor Jenny Durkan has “committed to want to do a thousand tiny homes … They recognize that the tiny-house-village program works, we’re getting people into housing, into services, getting them off the streets. … These are really taking off … We’re really excited .. that the city recognizes that this program works.” LIHI encampments will have 200 by year’s end, working on it for the past two years.”
Miller then asked if there were funds left over from Patacara’s contract, Fulton said she understood that the organization that originally held the city contract to operate the camp “has dissolved completely.”
What’s the status of the permit process for the camp’s second year? someone asked. Despite that having been a major topic at the previous month’s meeting, no one seemed to be aware on Sunday where it was in the process.
What about getting people into permanent housing? Giba asked. Whenever something opens up in LIHI’s 62 buildings, it’s filled almost immediately, Castle explained.
Back to the tiny houses: Davis asked Castle when the next ones will arrive. Castle said LIHI has a small but dedicated team working on that. And he noted that there are three simultaneous projects to increase the number of tiny houses at camps run by LIHI. “We are committed to doing this as quickly as we can … the reason why we are adding the ‘supertents’ are because houses aren’t coming as quickly as we hope.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Here’s the list of events ahead at the camp:
Next Community Advisory Committee meeting is January 7th, same time and place, 2 pm at Arrowhead Gardens (9200 2nd SW).