By Cliff Cawthon
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
When you come to the gate, instead of the encampment beyond, the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s usually someone being either welcomed in, looking for help, or offering to help.
Camp Second Chance is on the city-owned Myers Way Parcels, and while it’s been there, unauthorized, since last summer, it is also the site of one of the three “new” authorized-encampment locations formalized by a mayoral emergency order, approved by the City Council, last week.
The original December announcement of those three locations (including one in Georgetown) marked a leap forward for a plan the mayor calls Bridging the Gap to Pathways Home. The camp is to be given a one-year lease, with the possibility of renewal for a second year.
Nonprofits, community members, and residents are currently in a conversation around the Mayor’s move. And a community meeting is scheduled for 7 pm next Wednesday (February 1st) at the nearby Joint Training Facility. The authorization is greeted enthusiastically by camp liaison Eric Davis: “Being able to safely transition into housing, as opposed to being [swept] out of somewhere every three months…it’s a blessing the Mayor [has] sanctioned us [so far].”
I visited the camp to talk to residents about what this order means for their future.
Walking around, your first impression is how City Councilmember Kshama Sawant described it last August, a “well-organized, self-managed, clean and sober” homeless encampment.
Davis (above) led me on a tour of the camp, which started in April 2016 as a break-off from Tent City 3. As he was leading me through the camp, he recalled what led them from Tent City 3 to the South King County church that hosted them for three months before they moved to Myers Way in July (briefly on private land): “We separated from [TC 3, in April] on a peaceful note, we just didn’t agree with some of their tactics … we were there at the time and if you didn’t [participate in protests], then their staff came in [and leveraged services against you].”
According to Davis, that made the relationship with the management of Tent City 3 untenable, so they left and this core group wanted to stay together for safety and stability. He frequently refers to this camp figuratively as “a family.” Since the camp moved to this location in 2016, a number of community members have flocked to support the 20+ households that call the camp home at any given time. The camp uses social media for outreach. Tamara Williams, a camp supporter who lives nearby, told us, “We appreciate them as neighbors in our community,” while adding, “there are people who add to the community and there are those who take away from the community … this is a camp that is as friendly as any of the neighbors on my street, and sometime friendlier.”
Williams continued to praise the camp as an “addition to [the] community, not a drain on our community.” She was concerned for homeless people nearby, outside Camp Second Chance, who may be dealing with substance-abuse issues or mental-health issues as residents and may require professional assistance and care.
The direct assistance that Camp Second Chance has provided to homeless people in the immediate area is a stabilizing factor for many. Among them, one of the camp’s original residents, Chris Brand, a professional carpenter, construction worker, and handyman. Brand found himself homeless for more than five years after a career in the military, living with roommates, and employment insecurity. “Unfortunately, I’m at that part of my life where I’m looking for something better, transitioning between work, so hopefully then I can find a place indoors.” Brand said he has the possibility of a new truck-driving job, which would provide him with new opportunities given his clean-driving record.
In terms of stability, Brand echoes Davis’ previous hardships with unstable accommodations, “Staying here, we also benefit from the security of having people around us. Being able to keep our stuff all in one place all day long and that makes it a nice [place] for us.” This stability is enhanced, in Brand’s eyes, by the city’s authorization decision. From Brand’s perspective, “to move outside of the city limits right now … [other cities] don’t have the transitional places like this where I can trust the people I’m around.”
For more context on the camp, I reached out to Polly Trout, an ally of Camp Second Chance and the founder and director of Patacara Community Services. Trout echoed the importance of the plans to authorize the camp. She says it has worked hard to be a good neighbor and that the long advocacy struggle to stay together has maintained “a functioning, healthy, loving community … [an alternative to] scattering, so they wouldn’t have to stay somewhere alone.”
According to Trout, the Myers Way Parcels site was a great fit for the residents of Camp Second Chance, “it’s not going bother anyone if they move there …it’s a large piece of land, reasonably close to a bus stop.” Trout said that the stability is due to the camp’s “Clean and Sober” rules and its strict code of conduct. “We need more clean and sober places, as well as more low-barrier places,” Trout said, and in her opinion the city’s sweeps of homeless camps only increase insecurity for people outside.
The camp sees itself as a benefit to those nearby who are not part of CSC. Camp liaison Davis does acknowledge a contentious relationship with some individuals across Myers Way who are believed to have substance abuse or mental health issues but, he says, the camp still provides support to those in need from the other side of the road. Davis explained that “It’s not an organized encampment, it’s just a parcel full of people camping out. And any time they come up to the gate they’re hungry, they’re wet, they’re tired, they need a tent … they need a hot meal, we serve them just like we were a food bank.”
Johnathan Mather, one of those nearby campers, spoke to the benefits having an authorized and supported camp in the area, with the city expecting to perhaps triple the number of tents at CSC. “The street would be cleaner … there would be no trash in the woods at all, especially if we have a designated spot, or a couple of spots. This is a large area, there’s a lot of trash.” Mather also said he has been chronically unemployed due to his lack of housing and clean hygiene facilities.
As I left Camp Second Chance, Davis showed me an adjacent piece of land that, when the authorization takes effect (potentially next month), could have the camp reach its objective of supporting 60-70 people. In a brief pause, he painted a vision of how the camp could grow and develop in the future: “It would be nice to have some tiny houses; it would be beautiful. Tents are okay but if [the city] is going to give all of the [other] sanctioned encampments tiny houses, then why not the clean and sober one … all we want is the city to say it’s okay.” Davis even mused that the residents could build it; 70 percent of them, he says, have degrees or skills in a construction/ labor-related field.
All are welcome at Wednesday’s 7 pm meeting; the Joint Training Facility is a short distance north of Camp Second Chance, at 9401 Myers Way S. It’s where the city had a meeting about the Myers Way Parcels’ future last June – less than a month before the encampment moved in.