Myers Way ‘monstrosity,’ crime-fighting emphasis, and Mental Health First Aid @ West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

For the fourth time in two weeks, the big headline in a community-meeting update from Southwest Precinct police leadership was the Myers Way east-side cleanup – now under way.

This time, the update was at the first West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting since the group’s summer hiatus (most community groups skip at least a month of meetings in the summer). The meeting also included a briefing on Mental Health First Aid training. But first:

POLICE BRIEFING: Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis said they’re trying to “not spend a lot of time reintroducing ourselves to old problems … there’s a lot of frustration with problems that pop up over and over again.” He said RVs and encampments are a recurring concern and insisted “we go after them very vigorously until we get them gone.” He said they have been “dismantling that monstrosity,” referring to the illegal encampment on Myers Way where a major city-led cleanup is in its second day – we went by again this afternoon and saw 29 city vehicles large and small, including SPD’s Mobile Precinct.

Before the cleanup, Capt. Davis said, police had gone into the greenbelt and seen a lot of untraceable but almost certainly stolen items, and a “myriad” of other “crime issues,” with “dump truck after dump truck, loaded” now coming out of the woods. (Among other items being taken out, Davis mentioned “hundreds of propane tanks.”) The displaced people have to go somewhere though, he said, so that brings in the issue of abandoned properties and the Community Police Team. “West Seattle cannot afford to have another setup like that Myers Way encampment … we’re working very vigorously trying to not have that happen.”

As for overall crime stats in West Seattle, he said property crimes overall are up about 5 percent. “That’s too high for me,” he said, especially following last year, which concluded with an overall decline. “We’re still fighting with those numbers.” The “emphasis patrols” that focused on Alki over the summer have now moved on to issues elsewhere, including auto theft and burglary. And before long it will be time for the holiday emphasis on fighting theft. They’re watching repeat offenders, too, and reminding community members to please call 911 if something’s in progress: “Don’t wait until the next day.”

When Capt. Davis invited questions, the discussion went right back to people living outdoors. First question: What about the RVs on Harbor Avenue? We photographed a parking-enforcement officer in the area today, after hearing via the scanner that he would be “citing” RVs there:

“There are certain rules we have to abide by,” began Davis. “It’s kind of like a revolving door for us – we chase them, they leave, they come back, we start the process all over again. Right now we’re trying to get certain (policies) changed – trying to appeal to SDOT to get certain zoning changed -” he said they’re pushing that through SPD leadership. “We’re successful in getting them gone but … then they come back and start all over again.” What happens if someone refuses services? Davis was asked. The Navigation Team, comprised of police and other resources, all have to be involved – but they’re serving the whole city, he pointed out. Myers Way, however, had issues Davis said he had seen that just couldn’t go on any longer. He said it took meetings with the chief and city councilmembers to “get the ball rolling” on Myers Way. They are hopeful of preventing a “super encampment” from springing up elsewhere, so if people see something new starting, “let us know.”

The city’s resources don’t seem to be well-coordinated, observed one attendee. The police acknowledged that. But the Myers Way cleanup, which Davis likened to a “military operation,” is well-coordinated and perhaps a sign of improvement to come, he said.

The marijuana plants we showed in our cleanup coverage Monday were a “mobile marijuana operation” – 25 plants on a trailer that was being pulled down the street – and resulted in an arrest, Operations Lt. Steve Strand added. The encampment “was getting bigger and bigger,” he said, but warned that those displaced “are looking for where to go next.”

Another person brought up Camp Second Chance – the city-sanctioned encampment on the other side of Myers Way – as an example of what “should be encouraged,” with its drug/alcohol-free rules.

Then, the featured guest:

MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID: Sue Wyder is coordinating Mental Health First Aid training for King County. She decried the stigma that continues to surround mental illness – it can be treated, you can recover. 1 in 5 people suffer from a mental illness in the US in any given year – not everyone is aware, though, and might just shrug it off. Only 41 percent of those with mental illness seek treatment. Half of all mental disorders begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24. So what’s important is to identify, understand, and respond to signs of addiction and mental illness – and that’s what Mental Health First Aid is about.

It originated in Australia, so she had a koala bear as a prop. Its name is “ALGEE” – the acronym for a Mental Health First Aid action plan – assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen nonjudgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, encourage self-help and offer support strategies.

It’s “the initial help offered to a person developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a mental-health crisis.” You don’t diagnose the problem – you’re not a doctor – but you might call someone to help, stay with a person in crisis until they can get professional help, etc. In MHFA classes you’ll learn about risk factors and more. Deploy ALGEE. Sometimes people “just want to talk” – so listening is one of the most important things you can do.

The training includes two hours on understanding depression and anxiety, including some “really great videos.” And they talk about suicide – a “really hard thing to talk about,” but vital, said Wyder – you have to directly ask someone, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

They also talk about opioids, how to administer Narcan, and more.

Early intervention is really helpful, and this is another way that MHFA comes in.

Even Michelle Obama has touted MHFA, after taking a class, Wyder said. “That’s what we’re all here for … to help each other.”

P.S. A Mental Health First Aid training session is coming up in West Seattle soon, as mentioned here last month – check to see if there’s still room!

CITY ATTORNEY PRECINCT LIAISON: Toward the meeting’s start WSBWCN’s leaders Deb Greer and Karen Berge asked precinct liaison Joe Everett to give the group a refresher of what he does. Everett explained that he’s a liaison between the city and the community – a resource for you as well as for SPD. “I try to get as creative as possible in solving problems.” Here’s more on what precinct liaisons do, and how to reach him.

The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets fourth Tuesdays most months, 6:30 pm at the Southwest Precinct.

13 Replies to "Myers Way 'monstrosity,' crime-fighting emphasis, and Mental Health First Aid @ West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network"

  • chemist September 25, 2018 (10:54 pm)

    As long as we’re bringing out mental health statistics while talking about Myers Way issues - An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.9

    • Under_Achiever September 26, 2018 (6:18 am)

      and tragically, those with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders cannot be compelled to accept/seek treatment and discover how to live a healthier lifestyle.   Addicts remain addicts all their lives but can learn how to not use substances as a coping mechanism — they just can’t learn in a unstructured way.

    • jason September 26, 2018 (8:21 am)

      Is that why they are homeless or a result of being homeless?I’d imagine that choosing to live on the streets could result in some serious mental and substance use issues.

  • anonyme September 26, 2018 (6:50 am)

    This “monstrosity” never should have been allowed to grow to these proportions to begin with.  It represents failure by every one of the agencies represented by those 29 trucks to do their jobs.  The most monstrous aspect of all is the cost to taxpayers.  And of course, Needletown will be back shortly, either in exactly the same area or nearby.

  • adriana Morales September 26, 2018 (9:58 am)

    Alot of those people like living that way and it has gone on for so long that they really got comfortable down there. It’s sad and disturbing on so many levels. To live out there and be ok with it u have to be at a really low point in ur life. I speak from experience. But yes they will all find another location and probably not too far away. They feel some sense of freedom and creativity in their dwellings they construct themselves. It’s a problem that it seems we have no real answers to. It’s not like this in other states so I’ve heard. So what are we doing wrong? We offer help and they don’t want it.

    • Al September 27, 2018 (7:46 am)

      To be clear we aren’t offering that much help and not to everyone. We do not fund enough housing assistance for even the people who are asking for it. Every one of these people is there for a different reason. Some are there because they were thrown out of their homes by their parents. Some had a medical emergency throw them into bankruptcy. A ton of them are clearly addicts. Many have mental disabilities. And yes a few probably live that way by choice. Most are a combination of these things.

    • AJP September 27, 2018 (10:17 pm)

      Actually most other states are dealing with this as well. The entire West Coast is, and I have heard first-hand of similar encampments in North Carolina. Seattle isn’t special in this regard.

  • Rick September 26, 2018 (4:04 pm)

    Entitlement. As in you owe me. If YOU want to pay for it, fine. This is our decline.

  • Emma Beau September 27, 2018 (5:12 am)

    NIMByism is just kicking the can down the road.  I can see a lot of the people have moved just around the corner. Lots more cars west of South Park in the industrial area, all along Harbor Ave., and I’m sure other nearby spots. Seems to be a structural problem. 

  • flimflam September 27, 2018 (9:36 am)

    refreshing to hear anyone of local leadership actually speak in plain terms about this “camp”.

  • sgs September 27, 2018 (11:10 am)

    Thank you to all those with expertise, mission and responsibility for working on this problem and for going after it again and again.  Keep up the good work on all fronts (enforcement, resources, treatment).  This is not a one solution, one time problem.  It will take a long time and a lot of repeated efforts.  I am grateful for your work; these are awful sites where no one should be living.

  • Fred September 28, 2018 (8:19 pm)

    The notion that “a few probably live that way by choice” is a gross understatement, as evidenced by the follow up article pointing out that of 250 contacted, 10 accepted help. Face the facts, as long as the choice is supported it will continue.
    For those who sympathize with the squatters please post your street. We on Myers Way have endured the horror for a couple of years while you encouraged acceptance. Maybe you should have the grotesque circus occupy your street for a while. We needed a break. It’s your turn.

  • BG September 28, 2018 (9:31 pm)

    It is encouraging to finally see that “camp” get cleaned up. No surprise that it contained lots of stolen items.
    Seattle City Council could do their part and discourage “camping”, and living in vehicles in the city. Enabling those kind of living conditions is just plain wrong. If there is no incentive to get help why would the homeless do so?
    Why do we make it so easy to sit around and collect benefits without asking for any kind of personal contribution?
    Why do we tolerate able-bodied young people holding up cardboard signs begging at the side of the road?
    We have to make it easier to get help and improve your life rather than make it easier to sit around and do nothing with your life.

Sorry, comment time is over.