By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Camp Second Chance residents got the commitment Sunday that they didn’t get four days earlier – that the city-sanctioned encampment on Myers Way can keep its drug-and-alcohol-free policy, even under new city-contracted management.
It happened Sunday afternoon as the encampment’s Community Advisory Committee met at nearby Arrowhead Gardens.
Five committee members were in attendance, along with two city representatives, a representative of the Low-Income Housing Institute – which seems to have been all but finalized as the camp’s new city-contract-holder – and 20+ others, who, as self-identified during Q&A, ranged from CSC residents to Myers Way-area residents to Arrowhead Gardens residents to North Highline community advocates.
That was a much bigger turnout than the CAC’s last meeting in early July, but a lot has transpired since then, starting with the postponement of this meeting’s original early August date, for then-unspecified reasons soon revealed to be upheaval in camp leadership and management (as first reported here a week and a half ago).
The original contract-holder, Patacara Community Services, is withdrawing as of the end of this month, amid questions about the status of privately donated money, and its leadership did not have a presence at this meeting or last Wednesday’s city/LIHI briefing for residents at the camp (WSB coverage here).
The questions, however, have not gone away, as was clear during Sunday’s meeting, despite repeated declarations that the donations’ status was outside the purview of the Community Advisory Committee, as noted by its leader Willow Fulton.
CAC members with her at the head of the room with her were Aaron Garcia of the White Center Community Development Association, Cinda Stenger of the Westside Interfaith Network, Arrowhead Gardens resident Judi Carr, and green-space advocate Grace Stiller.
LIHI’s rep was Josh Castle; from the city Human Services Department, Lisa Gustaveson, and from the city Department of Neighborhoods, Tom Van Bronkhorst. There on behalf of Camp Second Chance was one of its founders, Chris Brand, who identified himself as interim camp manager, and other residents.
Fulton opened with a “factual rundown of where things are at as we understand them. The camp, she said, is still “basically running and operating as normal” but the relationship between Patacara and “internal camp leadership has broken down significantly in the past month or so” with “serious allegations raised against Patacara and a former camp manager.” She did not elaborate but said, “at this point all these things are just allegations.”
Without naming names, she recapped camp manager Eric Davis‘s firing and two camp residents having been “removed by Patacara via the trespass process,” with Patacara subsequently deciding “they are unable to continue to fulfill the camp contract,” leading the city to begin discussions with LIHI about transferring the contract.
Until the transition is made, Patacara is continuing to “provide contracted services” and its board president still has the power to “bar a resident from camp.”
She handed off to LIHI’s Castle, who declared that the city contract “is transitioning from Patacara to LIHI effective September 1st,” but they are “still working out a lot of the details.” He insisted that LIHI “believe(s) in the self-management model; this is how we operate the other encampments” with which LIHI is involved. He said this will be the 7th encampment/”tiny-house village” with which LIHI is involved, sixth one sanctioned/funded by the city.
While LIHI is partnered with Nickelsville/SHARE for operation of the other sanctioned encampments, “this one, we plan to do a little bit differently … working with residents,” Castle said.
He added that LIHI’s ~160 employees include 30 case managers providing “supportive services” to their camps/tiny-house villages and affordable-housing buildings, and he expected they would hire a case manager for “this village” as well. He also said that LIHI has a “huge network” of people donating tiny houses, but that the focus remains on “moving people into permanent housing.” Last year, he said LIHI got 161 people fromm its “villages” into housing, and got jobs for others, reuniting yet others with family and friends.
Then he addressed the hot topic: “You guys have a no-drugs, no-alcohol policy, that’s something we have at the rest of our villages, aside from the low-barrier (Licton Springs) site … we would like to continue working with the residents” (of Camp Second Chance).
The last remaining Patacara employee at CSC, case manager Simon Stephens, said that so far this month three campers had secured permanent housing, two more were set to move at the start of September, and he knew of “four more people … ready to move right now,” appealing to community members who might be aware of potential housing, saying one could afford up to $1,000/month, two could afford up to $900, the other could afford up to $800. “I’m looking forward to working with LIHI’s case manager before I’m gone.”
On behalf of camp residents, Chris Brand said things are OK but they have “some concerns about not having our ‘right arm’ – the authority to basically police the camp and make sure everything runs smoothly.” He said that “everyone’s been safe” but “we do have some other issues that have come up and one of those is with Patacara … they’re irreconcilable differences – w/o going into too much details – basically with the way (they) handled the money, not the city, the donation side – other than that, we’re looking forward to work with LIHI and sitting down with city to hash out details that arise for the camp.”
Asked what the camp needs, he had a list including men’s clothing – mentioned at last Wednesday’s meeting – and new tents, since some of the fabric is starting to tear in the sun, and the city does not fund. Cleaning supplies were mentioned but case manager Simon said he could handle that with city funds before the week’s out.
Gustaveson spoke next, saying the city is “very pleased” with how the transition is going, acknowledging the community interest in the camp “and we want to make sure that continues.”
Van Bronkhorst said the city’s been “hearing a lot about concerns on Myers Way” (outside the camp) and said that another communitywide meeting would be scheduled at the request of the nearby Highland Park Action Committee. No date yet; the location likely would be the nearby Joint Training Facility, site of previous such meetings.
Next, committee members were offered the chance to voice their concerns. Carr reiterated that “everyone’s concerned about what’s happening up and down Myers Way.” Garcia asked LIHI about its plan to transfer camp residents’ case management; Castle replied that it wasn’t “worked out yet.” Garcia then asked about the substance-free policy, and Castle said again that all but the “low-barrier” Licton Springs encampment are “really strict” about “no drugs, no alcohol,” saying that LIHI “believe(s) strongly in (that) model – if that’s what (CSC) would like to do we have a lot of experience with that.”
Stenger said they’ve had a commitment that people who are “not clean and sober” will not be referred to the camp, and wondered how they would follow up if a problem arises.
The ensuing discussion did not seem to result in a clear commitment to that referral policy; the Licton Springs encampment is at capacity, for example, though Gustaveson said that other “low barrier” spaces are becoming available, such as the new 24-hour Navigation Center and another 100-bed space on First Hill.
LIHI’s dispute-resolution process was the subject of the next question from Stenger. Castle noted that LIHI partners with Nickelsville and SHARE for “day-to-day self-management” of the other camps “and if somebody is in violation of rules, they have a bar system, could be temporary, overnight, one day, could be permanent, could be couple days, couple weeks – if somebody has an issue and doesn’t agree with being barred, they can file a grievance.” He said, however, that it “isn’t always a cut-and-dried process” and there have been times when LIHI didn’t agree with a camp-management decision.
Is there a neutral mediation process for situations like that? asked Garcia.
Gustaveson said the city “would probably handle that. … If there was an instance where there was a conflict between LIHI and the camp, as the city, we’re providing most of the funding, so we would act as a mediator, bring everyone together, and make sure we could work it out … (but) we haven’t really had any big issues with the other camps that we’ve had to handle that way.”
Castle added shortly thereafter that LIHI is “always trying new things” and that “these villages are getting people off the street, out of cold isolation and danger on the streets … this is a crisis response to homelessness … the whole point is getting people into safety where they can stabilize their lives and access housing … these camps can’t work unless there is good self management. These are communities, right? Everybody working together. We are big believers in that … we want to work together and make this successful.”
When the topic came up again a few minutes later, Fulton suggested the grievance process should be more “formalized”; Gustaveson said the city tried “not to micromanage” with its contract-holders, and that the contract is public (though a later exchange raised questions about just how accessible such documents have, and have not, been). She also said a new monthly meeting of camp operators was being convened; Fulton said a similar meeting of community advisory council reps might be helpful.
Continuing with committee members’ concerns, Stiller reminded everyone that the Myers Way Parcels are planned to eventually be an “open space park,” and as such, she had applied for some grants, including one from the King Conservation District regarding weeds, with Patacara as the fiscal sponsor and plans for camp members to work on the project. Would LIHI be willing to continue working with her and other community members on such initiatives? Yes, said Castle.
And again, the conditions along the rest of Myers Way were brought up, this time by Fulton, saying that anyone who wants to get to the transit center at Arrowhead Gardens has to walk in the street (the roadside walkway is blocked by vehicles, trash, etc.). “I shouldn’t have to drive (there) – it would be good to have a curb, barrier, sidewalk … I’d like to talk with the city and get something put in.”
Van Bronkhorst said a conversation last week had included the idea of “clearing a pathway through the area,” through striping or curbs, though he didn’t think a sidewalk was likely.
Castle suggested contacting local elected officials.
And then it was on to Q&A.
Again, conditions on Myers Way outside the camp were brought up. A CSC resident who said he’s leaving for housing soon voiced concern about gunfire and speeding. Saturday night, he said, “at least 15 bullets were fired out of some moving vehicle – it’s scary when you’re in a tent.”
Again, the issue of mediating disputes between the camp operator and residents arose, with specific questions about what had or hadn’t happened in the recent turmoil – “was (the camp) allowed to speak its side?” Gustaveson said that “the city contract monitor” spoke with some campers “as things were unfolding,” and said she had come to the camp “a couple times to be sure I was seeing what was happening, and hearing from residents” – but the city “didn’t have a formal role as a mediator.” As the discussion continued, she acknowledged there could be a role for an impartial fourth party in such a situation. Fulton wondered if the CAC might have a role.
Then, again, the safety issue; an Arrowhead Gardens resident cited “two drive-by shootings through seniors’ windows” and said she couldn’t see “how you can keep (CSC) secure when you have (others in the area) all on drugs – my apartment faces the woods, I see it every day, somebody does a dropoff, even at 1 or 2 in morning, they lay on their horns … how can you keep them clean when you have this out there?”
Castle expressed optimism that because of “good partnerships with the city … we can work with the city on these issues and tackle them.” And a camp member declared again that drugs and alcohol are not involved and “anyone found under the influence is barred … we tell residents not to get involved with those people.”
Someone asked in back, are you checking everyone as they enter?
Someone else retorted, do you check everyone who enters (Arrowhead Gardens)?
Next question – does LIHI have policies online for its drug-free camps?
Yes, said Castle.
Another question came from a past donor to the camp, wondering how LIHI would track “direct contributions to the camp”?
The next person had angry words for the city reps. “How come you allow people in that jungle over there? I’m new to the camp. That [unsanctioned encampment area] is where I hear gunshots come from. They swept the jungle (elsewhere in the city) … you guys should send a SWAT team down there (on Myers Way) and sweep that joker.”
Van Bronkhorst responded that a city “leadership team” is “addressing issues (related to) that greenbelt and around the RVs” on Myers Way, saying someone from the city had “done a look-see this summer after it got safe enough and dry enough, and it has been evaluated.” But, he added, “I don’t know what the plans are, or if it’s on the list for removal or not … it would be a big operation, it would be very difficult. One thing we’ve discovered … it’s easy to take land, difficult to hold land. It become a game of moving people around. Fencing off is an option.”
What followed were questions about public access to documents related to camp operators. One woman asked why Patacara was chosen in the first place (a camp rep later pointed out that the organization had been involved with CSC before the city sanctioning, and the camp chose them). She said, “I felt strongly that what you saw happen was going to happen. I tried to get the contract from the city … (was told to) do a records request.” She said she eventually obtained some numbers that showed “a decreasing amount of money being spent per person, so donations had to make up everything else. From the get-go, this whole thing was a disaster.” She wanted to be certain that camp residents aren’t being shortchanged.
And another area resident wanted to see the contract. Gustaveson said the city has three with LIHI, and a “contract monitor who visits all the programs on a regular basis,” but “we don’t oversee the donations, that’s not in our purview.” For the money the city lays out, monthly reports are required, as are updates on how many people are moved out of the camp and into housing.
“How do I see (those reports)?” Gustaveson suggested they talk “offline.” And she said that LIHI will be entering into a “brand-new contract” with the city regarding CSC.
“So, we’ll be able to see those contracts?”
No definitive answer to that, but Fulton asked that they be brought to the next CAC meeting.
Interim camp manager Brand said he had a copy of the contract with Patacara “(but) unfortunately I don’t think this is the real contract, it’s something Patacara brought to us … I have been unsuccessful myself in (obtaining a contract copy from the city).”
That’s when he went on to say CSC had hired Patacara originally, and now feels “unfortunately we made a very grave mistake.”
Next to speak was Liz Giba, who is president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council. While conversations about CSC have been “very focused on Seattle,” she said, “the North Highline community is just as affected, and we are very concerned for the folks who live” at the camp. She invited city reps to NHUAC’s October 5th meeting (7 pm, NH Fire District HQ, 1243 SW 112th), suggesting perhaps Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland and/or Homelessness Director George Scarola could be there. She also wanted to know what’s being done about police activity, mentioning the murder on the Highway 509 slope. “If I lived in the camp, I’d want a locked gate 24/7. Lots of us live on Myers Way and in Top Hat – please reach out to our community.”
Another nearby resident, Carol, agreed. “We’re calling the police constantly – we want the best for the people in the camp, but we feel the location was poorly chosen – it’s sending the message that it’s OK to be here.” She added that she too has made records requests that have gone unfulfilled.
CSC case manager Simon spoke again at that point, asking people not to generalize and judge all people in the area – “For the record, people lived in (the greenbelt) long before Camp Second Chance ever came (to the area).” He continued: “It’s not us vs. them – these people all came from housing (at some point), they might have been teachers, we’re all the same community – don’t play the blame game – don’t ask that the city keep moving these people around – the city is not geared to take care of everybody – we are each other’s neighbors, we should be taking care of each other – shelters and camps have been around a long time … The city as far as I know has never mediated meetings between unhoused people and people who are paid to take care of them, I don’t think it’s a systemic issue but I feel we can do better.”
That drew applause. And a woman identifying herself as an Arrowhead Gardens resident added, “Many of us are one step away from being in CSC, we (donate what we can) … we want you to know that those of us who are here see them as part of our community too.”
Next person to speak asked LIHI’s Castle to reconfirm “a solid commitment … to not let this be a low-barrier camp.”
Castle’s reply: “I think I can say with some confidence that this is going to be a no-drug-and-alcohol sober camp. I think the residents support that too.”
As for records and documents, going forward, he said, “We are interested in full transparency.”
Asked next about LIHI’s plans for building tiny houses at CSC, Castle said “we have some that are waiting in the wings to be added to different villages, and we have folks who want to build more of them … we are inundated with e-mails from people who want to donate to them or build them … if the village (CSC) would like all tents to be replaced with tiny houses, I think that’s very possible to do in near future.”
A community member who said he has been handling food for CSC and other sanctioned camps pointed out that the city budget does not cover food and he believes the City Council “needs to pass a budget that includes money for professional meal providers to bring food to these camps, at least one hot meal a day.” In the meantime, he’s looking for partners to help out, noting that a meal calendar was on Patacara’s website, “which is now offline.”
The issue of who has the ultimate authority on who is allowed into the camp and who’s not was brought up again, and it was pointed out that – as had been noted at previous Community Advisory Committee meetings we covered – Camp Second Chance has filed to become a nonprofit: “The camp is owned by its founding members.”
Yes, but, the counterpoint from Castle went, “it’s city land and it’s a 2-year city contract” that LIHI will be taking up the rest of. Gustaveson added that as contractholder, “Patacara (previously) had the lease to the land,” and that’s why it was in their power to decide who could stay and who would go, “based on the management plan they provided.”
The people who were kicked out on “trespasses,” Chris Brand countered, had been the subject of “accusations – no police charges, no proof given to the city or camp or SPD – those people need to return to the camp – they are a working part and relationship of the camp, and they should be returning today.”
The CAC’s Garcia suggested, “There needs to be clarity on the concept of power between (the three parties) – the power should reside with the residents but at a certain point that power gets taken away … there needs to be an understanding from here on out, when is that triggered?”
Fulton agreed that a process needs to be developed.
And a camp resident identifying herself as Michelle and as a recovering alcoholic said she wanted to “emphatically state that, as a woman, never did I feel threatened or uncomfortable at the camp.” And, she said, camp residents police each other for substances – “I would not jeopardize my sobriety for anything.”
One last time, the other Myers Way concerns surfaced, as a longtime resident of the area, just over the city-county line, said, “As an unincorporated King County resident, I can’t express just how much anger there is about what the city of Seattle is doing … our community would be a lot more tolerant if Seattle would take care of the rest of the mess in the (unsanctioned) encampments. I’ve lived in my house for 21 years and this is insane.”
The meeting then adjourned, after two hours, and many one-on-one conversations followed.
WHAT’S NEXT: LIHI is expected to officially take over CSC operation September 1st- that’s this Friday. Also, we’re awaiting word of the city-convened meeting that Van Bronkhorst mentioned. Meantime, the next Community Advisory Committee meeting is 2 pm Sunday, October 1st, at Arrowhead Gardens (9200 2nd SW), open to the public.