It was an emotional meeting, but not an angry one, when the Highland Park Action Committee convened a community conversation tonight about the city’s plan for a “safe lot” to host people living in their vehicles.
There were a few shouts, a few tears, and more than a few rounds of applause.
Even some laughter, when Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim thanked the crowd for being “so much nicer than the Ballard neighborhood” – not long after she had choked up while revealing that she had experienced homelessness as a child.
Ballard is the other neighborhood where the city plans to open a “safe lot” within a month. And tonight, Highland Park – already weary from the years of an encampment next to the future lot – learned more about the plan.
Like the answer to the big question: How many vehicles?
About 15, said Sola Plumacher from the city Human Services Department v, each expected to have 1 to 3 people, so a maximum of about 45 living in the “safe lot” – less than half the 100 or so who lived in the unauthorized encampment that was on the adjacent site for years.
Where will they come from?
A big question, as the “safe lots” were first portrayed as a reaction to north-end neighborhood’s discomfiture with unauthorized RV camping – prompting people to ask if this lot would just be where some of the north-end parkers moved.
According to Plumacher, police and service providers will be making referrals from West Seattle and SODO.
Now – how the meeting unfolded. (We recorded it all on video, [update] added above.)
Mat McBride (above), chair of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council, moderated the meeting, opening with not only a bit of background about the former encampment that had been next to the future “safe lot” site, but also a round of applause for longtime HPAC co-chairs Carolyn and Billy Stauffer, who are stepping down at the end of the month. At DNDC last week (WSB coverage here), McBride and others on hand had voted to ask the city that they send a delegation to this meeting rather than to next month’s DNDC meeting as had been offered.
Along with Plumacher and Kim, two SPD reps were on the panel – chief strategic adviser Virginia Gleason and Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis.
McBride began by asking prepared questions; an open-microphone attendee-question section followed.
Regarding social equity and neighborhoods taking their turns, considering that Highland Park already had “hosted” an encampment for years, Deputy Mayor Kim said how to ensure that equal treatment is still under study. “What my job is here today … is to hear the concerns and the real lived experiences of this neighborhood .. especially what you dealt with when Nickelsville was here, and taking that into consideration as we continue to evolve these rules.” She said they have asked the former DPD to come up with a “director’s rule.”
Who will the lot be serving?
Plumacher said, “Our intention is to identify vehicle residents that are already in a neighborhood and point those individuals to the safe lot identified for that location.”
Kim said, “Because these are city-owned, city establishments, we do feel like there is a difference in experience that we want to ensure as a city. With the Nickelsville encampment – the city had no role in that. … The safe lots and legal encampments are going to be different.”
How? She listed a few ways:
*Dealing with police – there had been confusion in the past, she acknowledged. Because these are city sanctioned, “there’s going to be a clear line of understanding that our officers have.” There will be no question about who’s to be evicted, who’s a tenant, etc. “We have heard from neighborhoods and providers over the years that there was just a lot of confusion. The other difference with RVs … the city is actually permitting these safe lots … there will be conditions on the permit. We do feel that in taking this dramatic step in authorizing and establishing these safe lots, we do feel we are going to have a very active role in regulating, monitoring, ensuring a very different experience for neighborhoods as well as the operators of these sites.”
Third question involved transportation:
Route 131 isn’t eligible for city transit funding, she said, continuing, “but the city is investing heavily in the Delridge corridor …” That drew the first audience outbursts, saying that’s not the same thing, the “Delridge corridor” doesn’t go by the camp.
A bit later, she brought it up again, saying she’ll try to get a more-comprehensive explanation, because support for transportation and transit needs are part of what will be offered to campers, “one of the more intensive support services we are going to provide.”
The previous encampment was “draining” on police resources – what’s the plan now? SW Precinct commander Capt. Davis said they’re expecting a smoother relationship, and “stay tuned – you’re going to learn things as we learn them.”
What about unsanctioned satellite encampments popping up nearby (an issue during Nickelsville’s tenure)? Who will be accountable? Who do citizens contact?
Plumacher: If folks are asked to leave these sites, that will be done in concert with a service provider, who will be making a referral to services for those individuals – if they’ve made a referral to a vehicle to be at this location, they generally know who those individuals are. .. The Human Services Department will be responsible for what happens in these lots, working in close contact with SPD and service providers. She said that the experience with the two sanctioned encampments has been good.
Kim said, “So the question is about unauthorized encampments that may grow around it. … We have a whole set of protocols around unauthorized encampments.” She said the city is trying to “balance” what it’s doing, “I don’t know if we’re getting it perfect … we’re trying to figure out how we balance the incredible growth and explosion we have seen on our streets, right of ways, greenbelts, neighborhoods … to be sure public safety and health concerns are being met. We are having situations and have had situations. The mayor spoke today about how 66 homeless individuals died last year because they were in unsafe locations or situations as a function of being homeless … What we are trying to do as a city with our unauthorized encampments is, we don’t have the ability to go in and provide services to (every one of them) … but we are trying to prioritize situations where we can go in …” She said there was a cleanup near “The Jungle,” on this day after five people were shot there.
“So how do we initiate a complaint-driven response?” asked HPAC’s Carolyn Stauffer. “Call the city customer service bureau at 684-CITY, and a complaint is logged into the system,” said Plumacher. “It will be directed to the department that owns the response.” Her office gets 10-15 complaints a week.
In the front row, Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked if they would consider walkthroughs to spot problems proactively rather than just awaiting complaints.
Plumacher went into details about how eviction will be different – under the old unauthorized encampment, the city attorney said there was a landlord/tenant relationship for the people who had been there. Now, the city will have the right to ask anyone to leave. “Service providers will be on site working with these individuals.”
Back to the greenbelt, McBride asked if Parks would be able to enforce what’s going on (it’s right across the street) . “Will the city take responsibility for protecting its largest greenbelt?”
Kim: “This is a new role for the city to play. … If unauthorized encampments get really really large and raise havoc … the Police Department could do walkthroughs, more visibility, more engagement. It is our commitment and expectations that it is not that we permit these safe lots and encampments and just walk away.”
Capt. Davis said they were doing walkthroughs in the greenbelt back in the Nickelsville days. “We can only ask again that you partner with us.”
Note: At the end of this story is the text of a document that was sent to HPAC with some questions answered in advance.
At 7:43 pm, the open microphone was offered for people with questions or concerns. McBride stressed that this is the beginning of a conversation. A line started to form quickly.
First, an attendee asked: What more can we do to help (the people who will be living there)?
Plumacher – We need to wait for more direction from our providers. Kim added that advocacy at the state and federal level would be excellent.
Next, a person who described themselves as formerly homeless and now a homeowner had a comment about the process. “We are asked for (feedback) for so many things before a decision is made … but in this case, a decision was made, and there’s a disconnect in how the community was treated. I feel it is disrespectful.”
After that – this particular site’s history was brought up again by Highland Park resident Laura Drake: “What I don’t understand, this piece of property, why has it always been considered for things that don’t really benefit this neighborhood? We fought hard against the jail (back in 2008). Then a homeless camp, now an RV camp, why is this area not important? Why can’t it be like affordable housing down there? Why does it have to be a homeless camp or a jail or a tent city?”
Deputy Mayor Kim: “Clearly there’s a lot of frustration in this room.” She says the mayor is frustrated too “and would like to have better answers. … He is equally frustrated by the 66 deaths, the violence, the assaults, for people who don’t have safer options … This is a crisis in our city.” She spoke of broken systems – foster care, with a high percentage of youth who become homeless … “In the frustration, we should try to figure out how we have common bonds, common solutions.”
Another resident spoke about her love for the community and said she remains concerned about how long the “safe lot” will be in operation. “What happens after six months?” She also suggested space on Harbor Island that would seem to have room for hundreds of cars and RVs. She expressed concern about trash piles. Plumacher promised trash and waste will be kept under control.
Amanda Kay Helmick, a community advocate and former City Council candidate, spoke next. By putting homeless people in this area, “you’re putting them on a fringe …” away from services She thinks the Southwest Teen Life Center would be a great place. Lots of access, big lot, close to all sorts of facilities, services, shops. “West Seattle loves people. If anything happens in this community, we want to help. Give us the opportunity to do that.” The room applauds.
Next, a person who says rent control and more affordable housing would help, to get at the root cause. She also asks for a public-health approach to crime in eastern West Seattle. HP had asked for LEAD, for example. “If it’s not LEAD, could we have another public-health response to that?” She then elaborated on Metro Route 131’s problems. More applause.
Kim explained that the mayor considers this “interim crisis intervention,” Kim says. “Housing affordability is absolutely critical.” She mentions five-digit application for housing help.
The next speaker says data will help them make the arguments they need to make. Plumacher says “That’s a very good point. … We bsolutely need to track absolutely everything that is going on.”
Next, Kay Kirkpatrick from Highland Park Improvement Club asks “more factual questions … Are these vehicles that will be coming and going or will they be vehicles that don’t move very well.” Plumacher: “I imagine it’ll be a mix of both.” They will offer transportation vouchers and discounted mechanical work.
She then asks about mobile showering units. “If you’re not providing sewer for the RV, how is that going to work?” Plumacher says most vehicles don’t have operable systems so they’ll require they be dumped before arriving and that they use the facilities on site, they will have a handwashing station as well.
It was suggested here that an “Urban Rest Stop” might be vital for the lot.
This is when things got personal.
Kim said that her family experienced homelessness when she was a child. She choked up. Plumacher said she has a family member experiencing homelessness, noting that she chose her occupation for various reasons. “It’s very difficult for people living on the fringes of society to get back in.” She says the provider for the “safe lot” has an 85 percent success rate at getting people into housing, and that they are working to make homelessness brief, rare, and one-time.
That’s when Kim observed, “You guys have been so much nicer than the Ballard neighborhood.” Room cheers. Kim says, “I know people are still frustrated, still angry, so disregard my crying.”
Kirkpatrick then points out that a couple of vehicles are already near the site. Plumacher says service providers are engaging with “folks who are already here.”
Emotions continued as Curtis stepped to the microphone, mostly just to say his brother was homeless for 22 years.
Next speaker: “Thank you – I’m really glad that the mayor and the city are doing something, that we’re not ignoring these people.” This is an emergency, he continued; “we need to own this .. If this was a flood, we’d be down there filling sandbags.” He wants to be sure they have more ideas of what they can do. “As a community, as a group, we can mount some kind of program …” maybe to subsidize one family? That would be a place to start, he says.
Helmick returns to the microphone: “There’s 100,000 people on the peninsula, and going back to the Urban Rest Stop, we don’t have anything like that. Homeless people are already living here.”
Dan Sherman from Pacific Plumbing Supply with 70 employees across the street says he’s concerned about the crime rate. “We already have a problem. .. fences are cut, fuel lines are cut, tools are stolen, lots of break-ins.” He’s also concerned about big rodents in the area. “I don’t think anybody wants this problem, and we all need to be part of the solution.”
He then asked, as another attendee had earlier – what happens at six months and one day? Kim says she doesn’t know yet. “The safe lots are being established as a function of the mayor’s state of emergency,” and she says there will be “follow-on legislation.”
It is our intent not to go beyond that,” regarding a year, she said, but they can’t guarantee that.
Question: “Who owns the lot?”
The parking lot is city property, says Plumacher. The adjacent lot is WSDOT.
Next speaker says she’s encouraged by the compassion in the room. She says homelessness is a global problem, and women are often homeless because of domestic violence. And many people who are homeless drug users are doing it to self-medicate because the world treats them so poorly, won’t acknowledge their existence, she adds
What’s the city’s commitment to communicate? asks the next speaker.
Kim says communication is not a requirement under the emergency terms but they can work out with LIHI “what the communication commitment is going to be with this neighborhood.” Maybe an update at monthly HPAC meetings?
Herbold stands up and says the city council asked for every-two-weeks reports on the emergency and that includes collecting reports on neighborhood impacts.
Next questioner wants to know where he can get information and reports on his own time, not going to meetings. He also wonders about extra officers to be assigned to the community.
Plumacher says the data they get won’t really translate to a dashboard but, HSD is putting together “a comprehensive analysis of the Seattle emergency” and a report that will be going to the council soon.
If more resources are needed, we will get them, promised Capt. Davis.
Virginia Gleason of SPD spoke for the first time. “There’s some floating resources that get moved around the city according to need.” She says they’re trying to gather as much data on neighborhood impacts from authorized encampments, etc. They get anecdotal info. She says that a lot of what bothers neighborhoods is not a crime. “What we’re trying to compare it to, in the East Precinct, when Capt. Davis was there, we had a managed encampment, and we were monitoring what was going on around it, comparing to what was going on in other neighborhoods.”
She says again that old Nickelsville is not a good comparison … because it was unauthorized.
McBride brings up, “We’re moving a disadvantaged community into a community that’s traditionally been underserved. “When it comes down to it, it’s going to be the people in this room who are going to roll up their sleeves and work with this.”
Just be aware of the history on the ground, the history in this place. These people are strong. They have done it by themselves. “For a long time,” added a voice.
McBride asksed for a few words from Herbold. She said the first “Nickelsville” somewhat taught the city how to handle an encampment. “I’m optimistic but I do feel strongly that its going to require a lot of ongoing communication … When I came to Delridge District Council, I had just heard about this the day before … The emergency order didn’t have many details.” She said she got additions into it including electricity. She said she appreciates that the community wants to help people who are HERE and hurting. She says that the reports of what’s going on, for those in the lot and the ‘hood, are what’s going to determine whether there’s a renewal, and “is also going to drive future decisions.”
“I want to thank Highland Park for being awesome,” McBride concluded.
ADDENDUM: HPAC sent the city questions in advance, and received this document with some of the answers (mostly redundant to what we’ve reported above but in case you want to see them):
City of Seattle responses to HPAC questions for January 27th, 2016 meeting
1. Who will be running the safe lot?
LIHI will be the operator of the Safe Lot, Compass will be providing Case Management and housing placement services at the site.
2. How long will this site function as a “safe lot?”
The permit allows for the site to be in operation for up to 6 months, with the possibility of a 6-month
extension. Similar to the encampment legislation.
3. How long will each vehicle be allowed to stay?
We are working with LIHI and Compass to develop the operational protocols at the site, it is expected there will be a time limit for length of stay at the sites but it has not been determined.
4. Will there be a spot set up to take donations and post a list of what is needed?
The Safe Lot will take donations, we are working with Seattle University to help develop a donation system that will help facilitate a more orderly donation system. LIHI as the operator will also have the ability to organize donations at the site.
5. Will the city provide a dumpster or trash collection services for the site?
Trash collection will be the responsibility of LIHI, the site operator. The City of Seattle will provide funding for trash collection. The operator will also work with clients to educate those on the site with effective waste management practices.
6. How will the city be handling extra dumping by those not living in the safe lot?
Garbage services are provided at the site and trash will be removed from the site. The City’s general response for illegal dumping is managed by each department that owns public property.
7. Will the city provide toilets, water, and electricity to the site?
The operator will be responsible for toilets and water. We are trying to determine how to bring electricity to the site.
8. Will the fire department have regular safety inspections of the site?
As part of the operations plan submitted by the Operator they must ensure that fire, health and safety precautions are met at the lot, and must demonstrate an understanding of how to prepare and resolve such issues.
9. Will the Department of Health have regular site visits?
As part of the operations plan submitted by the operator they must ensure that public health precautions are met at the lot, and must demonstrate an understanding of how to prepare and resolve such issues.
10. Will the police be allowed to enforce the rules of the safe lot as spelled out by the Operator and by the current encampment legislation?
Yes, however legislation does not yet exist for safe lots – it will be forthcoming and will largely mirror the conditions laid out in the sanctioned encampment legislation.
11. Will open fires be permitted?
12. Will the former Nickelsville site remain fenced?
13. Will services be provided to the campers to help them find shelter? if those services are not accepted by the campers, what is the city’s plan?
Services will be provided to individuals and families in their vehicles by Compass Housing Alliance. The goal of this intervention is to move people toward housing, not necessarily shelter. We are working with Compass and LIHI to develop length of stay protocols, and plans for individuals who are not showing progress toward a housing goal.
14. Will statistics be gathered on who is staying there?
All individuals and families entering the Safe Lots will be entered into the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This system collects a level of demographic and service information.
15. Will a Community Advisory Committee be set up, as defined in the current legislation?
Yes, this will be the responsibility of the Safe Lot Operator.
16. Can you give a brief run-down on the site selection criteria the City has for sanctioned encampments? (zoning requirements, buffer requirements, bus stop/transportation requirements, requirements for location of services, etc…) Also, can you please provide a map for the meeting of eligible land that was part of the encampment legislation? I think it just showed the land not zoned residential, but it would be helpful to know which land within the eligible zoning is City-owned.
Attached is a memo from DPD outlining the selection process for potential encampment sites as well as a document outlining eligibility criteria for sanctioned encampment sites.
Attached is a map of the recommended sites – 7 total were recommended as eligible sites that met zoning and eligibility criteria. This does not include sites that are privately-owned or that may come online in the future as eligible City-owned properties.
(WSB note: We don’t have these attachments but will work to get them and add links to them.)
WHAT’S NEXT: We’re still awaiting details such as exactly when the lot will open, and will continue to follow up and report on discussions in the weeks and months ahead.
ADDED THURSDAY 12:46 PM: In response to a question in comments, we checked on the site’s ownership. It’s not SPU, as stated in the meeting – Julie Moore from the city’s Finance and Administrative Services Department says the Ballard site is owned by SPU. This one is, as originally announced, state-owned, with the city negotiating to buy it.