A visit to Camp Second Chance, looking ahead to Wednesday’s community meeting


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.

21 Replies to "A visit to Camp Second Chance, looking ahead to Wednesday's community meeting"

  • Question Authority January 28, 2017 (9:04 am)

    Located just across the street in the WSDOT Hwy 509 right of way is the most horrendously filthy and trash strewn collection of encampments around.  When will that be dealt with and those trespassers be evicted?   It’s nothing but a raw sewage and fire hazard haven for those who don’t want to play by the rules of the semi sanctioned camp available to them just across the road.

    • WSB January 28, 2017 (9:14 am)

      Ask that at the meeting.

      • Brian January 28, 2017 (9:26 am)

        That sounds like a lot more work than posting a bunch questions on a website and then promptly forgetting everything once you close the browser window. 

        • Question Authority January 28, 2017 (10:50 am)

          I don’t forget as I drive by that mess twice daily and am sick of this regions lack of backbone dealing with the problem. You won’t care for the power outage when the campsite built at the base of SCL power poles goes up in accidental flames. No Trespassing signs go unnoticed and those woods are a social services nightmare. 

  • flimflam January 28, 2017 (11:15 am)

    I think its interesting that the city has anything to do with SHARE/tent city after repeated mention of their tactics of essentially forcing people to protest, etc. – the quote form the meyers way camper is appalling.

  • Donna January 28, 2017 (11:27 am)

    Cliff Cawthon, one of the residents you interviewed for this story, Chris Park, is a Veteran. Has HUD/VASH or other Veterans transitional housing not worked?   Can you reach out to him and ask if he would like support  getting connected with resources for Veterans?

  • Rick Cook January 28, 2017 (12:44 pm)

    Some folks just don’t want “help”.

    • WSB January 28, 2017 (1:08 pm)

      And some decline it because they are not thinking straight, whether because of mental illness or substance abuse or both, problems that also plague sheltered people. What to do about that?

      By the way, if you missed it in October, we covered the HPAC panel on homelessness that featured Dr. Polly Trout, interviewed for this story, and a Camp Second Chance resident who at the time was about to move into housing.


      • Rick January 28, 2017 (6:24 pm)

        And yet, some still don’t want help.  It’s their own choice as to how they want to live.

  • Ben Calot January 28, 2017 (4:44 pm)

    Cliff is a terrible reporter, and completely failed to do any research that would have allowed him to present a balanced article. This is basically a puff piece for Camp Second Chance.

    There’s not a single mention of the fact that the camp is located on an EPA Superfund site (page 81):


    No mention of the fact that the soil is contaminated with lead, arsenic, PCBs, dioxin/furan, and phthalates (sediment trap test results):


    The only contact he had with neighbors was a camp supporter who happened to be at the camp.

    This article is total garbage, and I’ve lost a great deal of respect for WSB for running this kind of one-sided puffery.

    • WSB January 28, 2017 (4:48 pm)

      This story is exactly what I assigned Cliff to do – visit the camp. Note the headline. – TR

    • dsa January 28, 2017 (6:00 pm)

      I did not believe the contamination report because that used to be a sand borrow pit.   But reading through the above linked url, it is a documented ash/potential cement kiln dust site.   Cruise down to figure 22 for a short cut to see it.  I think the city better get their act together and do some testing, before finalizing letting folks live there.  It may not be so safe after all.  

  • Ben Calot January 28, 2017 (5:14 pm)

    Cliff obviously went in with an angle he wanted to present. He failed to fact check basic statements made by Polly Trout, and allowed himself to be snowballed by camp supporters.

    This article should be filed under opinion as there was no attempt to present anything but the author’s opinion.

    I live on Myers Way, they’re not fooling any of the locals with this crap. We see the Camp Second Chance residents coming and going from the forest, and I can assure you it’s not for the scenery.

    You and Cliff have been bamboozled, Tracy, it’s that simple.

    If you ever decide you want to get the other side of the story, let me know, I can put in you in contact with many of the local neighbors, who will paint a pretty different picture of the camp.

    • AMD January 28, 2017 (7:14 pm)

      I’m sorry you can’t tell the difference between someone having a different experience than you and having “an angle.”  I’ve been by CSC myself as have others who have had the same experiences as the author.  

      That’s not to say nothing bad has ever happened on Myers Way ever (the article does address concerns over other situations in the area), but berating a respected news outlet for filing to validate your personal view seems pretty childish.  Perhaps your agenda is better suited for Wednesday’s meeting.

    • Jethro Marx January 28, 2017 (8:21 pm)

      So, Ben, I’m confused: are the camp residents vulnerable members of society whose needs are not being met and who are being given the short end of the pollution stick? Or are they lazy dope fiends who need to “get over” their underlying mental health issues and pull themselves up by their pcb-coated bootstraps? Either way, I guess you’ve made it clear you don’t want them in your backyard. I guess you haven’t built too many fires in the damp woods, either, ’cause the idea of an urban forest fire causing a power outage would be laughable, if it weren’t such a thinly veiled allusion to, “I don’t like people that aren’t like me.” You should go to the camp and talk to them, and then you could give us your “unbiased” version of the article.

    • Jethro Marx January 28, 2017 (9:17 pm)

      Oops, I see now it was some other guy who fears a power outage due to fire. But he sounds kind of crazy, too. I hope when he describes something as a “social services nightmare” he has a background in social work.

      • Question Authority January 29, 2017 (9:30 am)

        I referenced a specific campsite built using the wooden SCL pole as part of it that can easily be seen from Southbound 509,  I never implied a forest fire so that’s all on you.  In addition that camp prevents the safe access to maintain the power system and the additional joy of the wading/removing the mess to do the work for you and I.

  • Jen January 28, 2017 (8:20 pm)

    Honestly Mayor Murray, this is the best you can do?  If this clean and sober organized camp can function so well, get them into a motel for the winter.  We know you have the money, so just do it.

  • rob January 28, 2017 (8:29 pm)

    hawaii has got it figurd out. They are declaring homelessnes is a sickness. So a doctor  can proscrbe a house. This is not a joke

  • Willow January 30, 2017 (7:31 am)

    Thank you, WSB and Cliff, for sharing a story based on first hand experience at the camp. I am also a resident very near the camp and have been in contact with them since they arrived on Myers Way. The experience reported here is what I have also seen, and why I and many other local and extended community members are supporting and advocating for the camp.

    I share some of the environmental, crime and dumping related concerns that other neighbors have voiced – though I don’t think they are caused or made worse by the presence of the camp. Those issues would be present and probably worse WITHOUT them here. If anything, the sanctioning of the camp and city involvement provides visibility to issues that seemed to be out of sight/out of mind for so long due to our city/county border location.

    With collaboration between community members in the camp and surrounding neighborhoods and the city, we have the opportunity to provide a safe, stable, temporary solution for some people that really need it and are doing their part to maintain it.

    Regarding the contamination report, there is ongoing ground water testing done at the site (there are several testing wells), and according to the city FAS representative at the last meeting, the possible contaminated soil is 10-12 feet down and does not pose a risk to people/animals on the site if not disturbed. I would also like to see additional confirmation from an independent source, but what I have read so far makes me as comfortable there as anywhere else I go in the south Seattle area.

Sorry, comment time is over.