By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
No one from Camp Second Chance, West Seattle’s only city-permitted encampment, has been placed in housing in two months.
That’s what the C2C Community Advisory Committee was told when it met on Sunday for the first time since June. In the month prior to the June meeting, C2C’s case manager Richard Horne had reported, he helped seven campers find housing. On Sunday, he described the challenges that are thwarting further progress.
But first: Present from the committee were chair Willow Fulton, a nearby resident; Judi Carr, who lives at Arrowhead Gardens, where they meet; and Aaron Garcia, from the White Center Community Development Association. LIHI, which operates the camp, was represented by Horne and by Josh Castle. C2C founder and resident manager Eric Davis also was there, as was the usual city representative, Tom Van Bronkhorst of the Department of Neighborhoods.
UPDATES: Fulton started by reading a message from absent committee member Cinda Stenger, who wrote that Alki UCC – one of the camp’s major donors – has finished two more “tiny houses” for the camp, with five additional ones almost done, and is raising money for more. (City funding for the encampment does not cover tiny houses or tents, just the platforms on which they are held.)
They’re trying to get power hooked up to the tiny houses and they also are trying to get a second regular visit from the Union Gospel Mission is trying to raise funds for a second trailer. She also is hoping to arrange for volunteer drivers to pick up and bring to C2C one hot meal a week from Operation Sack Lunch, which has committed to providing the meal but doesn’t have drivers to make it happen.
Castle, after noting that the city has officially renewed C2C’s permit for another year (announced a few days after the previous committee meeting), said LIHI is scheduling the work to hook up electricity for the tiny houses so “that should happen pretty soon.” They also have “created and posted” a site-coordinator position for C2C, and he said Davis has applied for it.
Davis said 46 people are currently living at the camp – 13 women and 33 men. C2C now has 31 tiny houses. No new residents, no one’s been barred, two people moved out, one person was sent out of the camp for seven days for missing two security shifts in a row. 220 meals have been served to people who show up at the gate – not necessarily 220 individual people, it was clarified.
Van Bronkhorst summarized the recent homelessness-related changes at the city Human Services Department, with Tiffany Johnson now in charge of that part of the HSD’s work.
Fulton then read a note from a community member announcing an art-making event next Saturday at the camp, 1-3 pm August 11th; other details to be finalized and posted on the C2C website. One of the planned results will be a new banner for the camp.
COMMUNITY QUESTIONS/CONCERNS: The first came from committee member Carr, who said she had read about the city’s recent announcements regarding homelessness and was concerned she wasn’t seeing much about housing creation. LIHI’s Horne said, “We have more people than we have affordable housing, and so many agencies competing for the same unit, same voucher … It’s getting more and more challenging to find housing, especially for those who need support services – we can’t just put them in an apartment [without such services] and give them a key; they’ll (soon) be homeless again.”
Van Bronkhorst agreed there’s not enough housing, though there are “people working on it.” He talked about the city’s current attempt to at least add shelter spaces.
“Does it sound like it’s improving?” pressed Carr.
Van Bronkhorst wasn’t willing to offer an opinion but said it’s important for people to contact city reps and offer their thoughts.
Garcia said it’s a hard conversation, particularly regarding housing and support for men.
Camp supporter David Baum wondered about a comprehensive bank of resources. Horne said he has “seven that are constantly being updated all the time.” But, he said, they’re thick files. Baum said that without any new placements in two months, it’s clear things must be tough.
Horne elaborated that he has four “possibles” – two couples close to housing placements. He added that he is looking for resources for seniors – both housing and support services – as well as for others with “physical and mental health challenges.” He said he works every contact he can and sometimes it “requires face-to-face contact.” He told a story about spotting a sign for a $650 apartment and contacting a client to get on it – but by the time he got his client there, “they had 11 applications.”
Castle said that plays into the questions people ask about how long people are able to stay in encampments. “The stock is just not there” to find places to move them into, he reiterated, and that factors into longterm encampment stays.
Horne acknowledged that there can be some challenges with people not necessarily wanting to leave C2C because it has a strong community and they are concerned about moving someplace where they don’t know anyone, so sometimes those people don’t do all the necessary followup on possible placements.
Baum observed that the camp indeed can be more than just a “waystation” for people on the way to permanent housing. And if people are not in a rush to move on, “that says to me that this is a good option” for their lives as they work to reintegrate into society. He described the situation as a “conundrum.”
Horne said he hears people at C2C say they are “safe,” and safety is a “huge, huge issue,” especially for women and seniors – the camp has more than half a dozen people in their 70s.
Fulton observed that there’s also a conundrum with people at the camp who help make it a success jeopardizing that success if they leave, so maybe there should be more work done to build skills in more people in the camp.
Garcia talked about “university models” possibly having some inspiration in how camp residents could be trained.
Horne observed that “everybody has a share of responsibility in the camp” and said he understands “the emotional attachment to the camp.”
Next concern: Attendee Matthew Cook wondered abaout engagement with the city regarding stopping the loss of affordable rental stock.
Van Bronkhorst brought up HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability, which isn’t yet in effect because it is still pending before the City Council, while an appeal of its Environmental Impact Statement is continuing to be heard before the city Hearing Examiner.
Attendee Liz Giba brought up Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (which HALA MHA resembles) and hoped that the city and LIHI would advocate for it. Regarding keeping people together, she brought up the Vintage Housing complex that will open in a few months in Top Hat; Horne said they’re “looking into it.” But he said that unless people are a couple or “go into a mutual contract to be roommates,” keeping friends together is “difficult.” It’s also “a luxury and not a necessity.” But he reiterated that it’s not just about “getting a key to a place,” it’s about “the right place with the right services” or else “they are going to be homeless again. A lot of people are “extremely vulnerable” and their priority is to get them housed before winter.
Baum brought up the additional camps that LIHI will soon be involved with, and said there are people around the city who are knowledgeable in how to maintain order in camps and they should be cultivated. Castle spoke briefly about how they’re running their newest camp, Whittier Heights in the north end. He said they continue to talk with partners to “gain knowledge in how to run these villages.”
Cook also asked about a north-end parcel that LIHI owns and wondered why it’s vacant/unused. Castle said he doesn’t know but would look into it.
The talk veered back to HALA MHA; Van Bronkhorst offered to arrange for someone to come brief the committee.
Fulton at that point reminded everyone that the meeting’s primary purpose was to discuss issues, concerns, and updates specifically related to Camp Second Chance.
But shortly thereafter, Castle brought up the hotel/motel tax issue and the King County Council hearing last week at which housing advocates said more should be spent on affordable housing, so LIHI is now asking people to lobby county councilmembers to “prioritize money for affordable housing and not Safeco Field upgrades to benefit wealthy interests.”
NEXT MEETING: Since the regular first-Sunday meeting date would fall on Labor Day weekend, it might be skipped; Fulton promised a decision soon.