By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two months after Camp Second Chance became officially city-sanctioned, its Community Advisory Committee convened at the encampment on Myers Way in southeast West Seattle.
They heard updates from its operator, Polly Trout of Patacara Community Services, including her report that CSC’s population had more than tripled since it became sanctioned two months ago – from 14 to 49, counting three people who were reported to have arrived just as the Sunday afternoon meeting began. But that’s not yet the full capacity mentioned in the announcement last December that it would be one of three new sanctioned encampments in the city.
The committee – which the city decreed would be a required part of camp operations – includes a wide range of representatives from around the area, West Seattle to South Park to Top Hat to White Center, neighbors, businesses, nonprofits, neighboring senior-housing complex Arrowhead Gardens, and more. A city rep – Tom Van Bronkhorst from the Department of Neighborhoods – was at the meeting too. In all, more than 20 people were sitting in a canopy-covered circle before the meeting wrapped up.
Trout explained the camp’s operations – that it’s self-governed, with a Monday meeting where there’s a vote on decisions such as barring people who can’t follow its code of conduct, which includes “no criminal behavior, no stealing,” drug and alcohol free, being civil and ethical. The camp also has a grievance process if someone feels they’re not being treated fairly, and that can be pursued with Patacara’s board, but so far, she said, no one had done that.
She mentioned the services that have improved at CSC since signing a contract with the city on arch 8th – including:
*Potable-water cistern, 850 gallons, providing running water
*City electricity replacing gas generator
*New community structures like a new storage shed
*Their first “tiny house” – which is going to be a staff office
*Up to 50 platforms provided for tents, which they hope to convert to tiny houses by November – the city money covers only the platforms, so they’re raising money for the structures (four have been donated so far) and also working with someone designing an 8 x 12 prototype structure
*Fulltime housing case manager helping connect people with housing
*More Honey Buckets – the camp had some with private funding before being sanctioned, and now there are seven
*Lighting along Myers Way, installed by the city (as reported here)
*Trash/compost/recycling services were being provided by the city since shortly before the contract, and Trout says those services can be “upgraded” if necessary to handle
The duration of Camp Second Chance’s contract with the city is not yet clear, said Trout – the first year, a $208,000 contract, runs through the end of December, and whether they would offer a full-year extension or part-year, they don’t know. She told the group that the budget “doesn’t cover everything” and they get monthly checks that help them “triage what they can afford this month.” Improvements they’re looking at include “gray-water catchment” which will enable camp residents to use donated warm-water sinks, donated solar lighting, and rodent control. The latter is focused on bait boxes that would not harm other animals, since, camp rep Patrick Mosley said, they have cats and dogs at the camp, as well as wildlife in the area (including a major bird population – they could be heard singing throughout the meeting).
“We want to make this the best camp in the city, the county, the nation,” Trout declared, also explaining that Patacara is an organization grounded in the Buddhist faith, which counsels “everything is changing and growing so we should never get set in our ways, should always pay attention to what’s going on.”
It was time to move on to community concerns.
A man identifying himself as living in a house nearby along Myers Way said, “It’s difficult to separate camp residents from those around who aren’t part of the camp – we’ve tried to get the city to deal with those issues – but they haven’t.”
Mosley said the city’s encampment sweeps are a problem – “every time you sweep, people have to go somewhere.”
Another person noted that the city has a May 15th community meeting coming up to address larger issues involving homelessness in the area, beyond the camp, and that she had heard from the city and county that the population has two elements, those who just want to quietly get by, and those who are “part of the opioid epidemic who need to finance their purchases,” often by criminal activity.
Some outside CSC are there because they have “some affinity to the area,” one housed neighbor observed. Trout added, “We’re working really hard to not increase homeless population in this area,” including not just booting people onto the street nearby if they have to leave the camp for not following rules.
Nearby housed resident Carol wondered if people who don’t live in the camp are allowed to come to it for “stuff” and services.
Mosley said there’s a shower truck once a week, with camp residents going first, others allowed if there’s time. The Honey Buckets, he added, were moved away from the street so they are no longer accessible to non-CSC residents. They also have set up times when those in need can come get dry clothes and food if needed.
Nearby housed resident Willow said the area had problems even before Camp Second Chance showed up last summer (after leaving a South King County church that had hosted the camp’s original incarnation). “My experience and perspective, having the services available … can help those (outside camp) folks take the next step.” She says the lighting “seems to have been a huge help toward the excess dumping, people driving up in trucks … that had been going on for years.” She sees people walking along the street, says hello, and they say hello back. “They’re just walking on the hill to get into the White Center area.”
Trout said she has been working with unhoused people for 16 years now. “The one thing that is likely to help somebody make the choice (to take the next step) is kindness. … It makes a profound transformative difference when you treat someone like a human being.”
An Arrowhead Gardens rep asked, “How do you apply to be a resident here?”
Trout said the city only wants them to take referrals from the Navigation Team, but they’re going beyond that when it’s perceived as necessary. “Because we’re here, prioritizing intakes from walk-ins from this neighborhood is the right thing to do.”
Prerequisites, Mosley said, include having ID – which the camp itself decided to require – and clearing the sex-offender registration list. Camp manager Eric Davis added, and being clean and sober, though overall: “We don’t have this great big list of things to keep people out.”
Other topics included how and where to make a central list of what the camp needs and how people can donate, as well as how to get more information about the camp onto its website.
“We need a volunteer volunteer coordinator,” joked Trout. Her organization was all volunteer with almost no budget last year, while this year they have a $300,000 budget and will have three paid staff, including her, but, she said, “mistakes are being made because I only have a certain number of hours in a week.” She also said that Camp Second Chance will eventually become its own 501(c)3 nonprofit, so Patacara’s sponsorship of it is temporary.
As is CSC’s inhabitation of the site – Mosley said they have everything set up “so that the site will be left in as good or better condition when they go … everything is being put together so that it can be carried away” when the camp leaves.
The site’s future remains uncertain – it’s city-owned land that the mayor promised to keep as open space, but it has yet to be turned over to the city Parks Department, and there’s no definite timetable. Trout noted that whenever CSC moves on, it would have no control whether other campers followed them.
“There’s too many homeless people and not enough places to put them,” observed Mosley.
Trout said that the type of affordable housing that’s really needed to help reduce homelessness is true low-income housing to help people who are, for example, subsisting on disability checks, “$770 a month, with no (jobs for them) … that’s what we need the help with.” She said that kind of housing has a 3- to 5-year wait list.
After the meeting, we went along on a short tour of the camp, which is on a graveled, fenced lot just inside the main gates to the Myers Way Parcels. Its growing tent area stretches in neat rows toward the north side of the site; its common areas are near the front gate. The first “tiny house” is being worked on alongside the south section of the fence; it’s shingled, and power is being installed.
UPCOMING MEETINGS: The advisory committee will meet again at 4 pm June 4th, (corrected) at nearby Arrowhead Gardens (9220 2nd Ave. SW). Also near CSC, the Joint Training Facility (9401 Myers Way S.) is where the city’s next “community conversation” about Myers Way-area homelessness issues is scheduled for one week from tonight, 7 pm Monday, May 15th. And if you’d like to hear a top-level update on the Seattle homelessness emergency, a briefing including the city’s homelessness director George Scarola is scheduled for the City Council’s Human Services and Public Health Committee this Wednesday, 2 pm.