By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though city-sanctioned Camp Second Chance is on the west side of Myers Way, illegal camping on the east side has long been a concern of the C2C Community Advisory Committee, whose meeting today included new info about the recent cleanup in that area.
On hand in the community room at Arrowhead Gardens were committee chair Willow Fulton and members Judi Carr, Grace Stiller, Cinda Stenger, and Aaron Garcia. Camp operator LIHI was represented by Josh Castle and on-site case manager Richard Horne as well as C2C co-founder and camp manager Eric Davis. The city had extra representatives at the meeting to talk about the cleanup and what’s next for the area – August Drake-Ericson, manager of the Navigation Team; Lisa Gustaveson of the Human Services Department; Patrick Merriam and Jon Jainga of Seattle Parks. Also there to talk about the city’s efforts to get more affordable housing built was Dan Foley of the Seattle Office of Housing.
CAMP REPORT: Davis started with a short, emotional tribute to a founding C2C member who he said died recently of cancer. Then the current numbers:
He said 47 people are at the camp right now, 13 women and 34 men; 34 tiny houses and five more nearly complete; “15 tents left but that’ll change,” thanks to the efforts of volunteers led by Alki UCC who “continue to build, build, build,” plus he said LIHI had “dropped off 2 more houses.” They had fed 115 people who showed up at the gate earlier in September but “that has since ceased because there’s no one (left) out there” (post-cleanup).
LIHI case manager Horne reported “some success with diversion” – trying to reunite some residents with family “if that’s possible.” Currently there’s a young couple in the camp with whom they are working on education and employment. “We are trying to be creative when it comes to housing – we’re working with anybody who will work with us,” including programs in Snohomish that come with housing components, he said. He and Davis have worked to get the “most vulnerable” residents out of tents and into tiny houses. LIHI has bought 18 heaters, he said. They are also working on kitchen improvements an concerned about tying things down for the winter season ahead. He also said that while many people have been in the camp for more than a year – when the original intent was for 90-day maximum stays – they are trying to renew stressing to people that they need to take advantage of resources. Some cannot hold a job, but two campers have qualified for disability, he noted.
HOUSING AND RELATED ISSUES: This topic was a response to questions asked at recent meetings about what’s being done to ease homelessness by creating affordable housing. The Office of Housing loans money for production of affordable housing to organizations such as LIHI, Foley explained. The city Housing Levy generates money for those loans, he said. That money goes toward “conventional apartment buildings,” but going through permitting and other processes “can take years,” he noted. What the city funds has a 50-year affordability commitment, he added. Last year they funded 900 units; “in a typical year” it’s more like 200 to 400 units, and their funding usually is part of what a project needs. He added, “It’s tremendously expensive …right now to build 100 units of affordable housing in Seattle costs $30 million. (And to operate it) costs (the operator) a minimum of $1 million a year.” He said the city “tries to be helpful” where it can – providing land, speeding up permits when possible – “public land that’s available for very little or free, that helps.” He noted that they have to work with zoning – they can’t just build an apartment building in an industrial- or single-family-zoned area, for example. So “siting and zoning” are issues as well. They also have to be concerned about access to transit, schools, food … “and private developers want the same thing.”
“What about just buying individual (existing) homes?” asked one attendee, given the cost of building. Foley said they want to “maximize density” on land and single-family houses don’t accomplish that. “Every city department, around homelessness, is being challenged to grow … and think differently,” he said. That includes possibly “master-leasing” or even buying buildings that are being developed.
“What about dormitory style – 400 people in a building (for example)?” asked CAC member Stenger. Foley said no ideas are off the table.
“What about HALA?” asked Department of Neighborhoods’ rep Tom Van Bronkhorst.
Foley responded by talking about the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones (the City Council vote continues to await resolution of the Environmental Impact Statement appeal filed by a coalition of community groups, with the Hearing Examiner‘s ruling expected next month). He also mentioned the Multi-Family Tax Exemption that’s been available to developers for years, with a tax break if a certain percentage of their units are offered to people at a certain income level.
(At that point, a city HALA expert, Jesseca Brand from the Department of Neighborhoods, pre-announced as a meeting guest, arrived.)
Foley said the city currently has 13,000+ units of affordable housing “in its portfolio” currently – after 30 years – but needs many more (14,000 more in King County, according to the recent McKinsey report, Castle pointed out).
Brand said it’s vital to spread low-income units throughout the city rather than concentrating them in one place. “Our siting policy,” added Foley. He mentioned the Fort Lawton proposal in Magnolia. “One day there will be affordable housing there,” he vowed. “The city is throwing as much weight and resources as it can …” toward affordable housing. But he said more funding is needed.
NAVIGATION TEAM & MYERS WAY CLEANUP: Drake-Ericson said the Navigation Team’s goal is to “engage the unhoused community” and move it toward housing. The team has been in action since February 2017. She spoke about the recent Myers Way sweep and said the team had offered shelter. She said that she doesn’t like the word “sweep” – she insisted the team’s goal is to “empower” unhoused people.
Stephanie from the South Park Senior Center asked Drake-Ericson what they could do for homeless people in SP who have no shelters in the area. Drake-Ericson suggested Find It Fix It, and/or reaching out directly to her and/or SPD Sgt. Eric Zerr from the team, though that, she said, is “slower” because they still have to get the complaints/concerns “into the system.” They have to prioritize where their “very small unit” goes around the city.
Castle mentioned a recent city auditor’s report showing the difficulty of getting people to accept services and then the shortage of shelter in general. What does the Navigation Team do if people don’t want to go to a basic shelter where they can’t stay during the day, where there’s no place to store their property. Drake-Ericson said the Navigation Team verifies that shelter is available before making contact, and said there are beds that go unused every night in Seattle – it would be great if there was more “enhanced shelter” available, she said, but even the basic overnight-only shelters are a start.
She was asked how the team deals with someone with a “mental health or addiction” crisis. She said they might choose “to leave a person on a site” even during a cleanup because “we don’t want to lose that person” – they might return with an expert, for example. They have a mental-health specialist who could go evaluate the person and decide whether they need to go to a hospital. “If a person is drug-involved .. and willing to engage with us in a way that we can steer them toward detox or a program where they are actively seeking care, that’s our direction,” she added.
Drake-Ericson said that reuniting someone with family, when possible, can be healing.
Gustaveson talked about collection of data that helps them determine what’s helping and what’s not. That data is collected from people being served at places like Camp Second Chance, for example.
Castle said most tiny-house villages accept referrals from the Navigation Team, but that’s not where the beds are going unfilled. Drake-Ericson said that they worked “for over a year” with the east-side Myers Way campers before the recent cleanup, and said their estimates/counts had changed over time. First, she said they counted 60 structures early on and estimated that meant about 120 people, but then realized some of the structures were used for storage, so they revised the estimate to about 60 people, and finally determind 40 people were living there just before the cleanup. So she contended that moving “seven or eight” people into housing, out of 40, was a good percentage.
What’s a typical day for the team? asked Fulton. They start with a briefing, then talk about the day’s plan – including outreach, “who we’re going to look for and why we’re going to be looking for them” – and discussing cleanup plans. They have a field coordinator who determines where on a site team members will be meeting, and then when they arrive, they meet again “and from there decide what the cleanup is going to look like, if the cleanup is occurring that day.” She said that if property on the site is to be cleared, it’s picked up, categorized, and stored for 70 days – maybe longer if they are still “engaged” with the property’s owner, who might be moving closer to housing. She said the storage facility’s location is kept secret because they don’t want people coming there looking for stuff – but they deliver it when the time comes, even help pack it if it’s going to be shipped out of town because the items’ owner is moving. On the Myers Way east-side cleanup, five agencies were involved, said Drake-Ericson. One attendee said it was “impressive – organized and efficient.”
Where did the people who turned down services go? Drake-Ericson said the city knows where and has “started to engage them again.”
Merriam from Parks then offered some specifics on the Myers Way cleanup – it started September 24th, had workers on 12-hour days, concluded September 28th, with removal of “a couple hundred tons of trash” from the site (and a few tons from the street), creation roads so they can access for restoration – 45 to 60 people on site each day, including water trucks, street sweepers, first-aid stations. He said the Parks crews did not deal with people trying to return – that was the Navigation Team’s job. He also said some of the area looked like it had involved “illegal dumping … for years,” dumping that was not the result of unsheltered people living there. They used heavy equipment because of the slopes, with people hand-picking litter and debris. One person was injured – “a slip and fall situation, but they’re fine” – from Parks.
Merriam said they had hoped this cleanup would have happened earlier but the outreach to the residents had taken longer. Drake-Ericson said the Navigation Team had been planning it for about three months.
A big question: What’s the plan to keep the site from being reoccupied?
Jainga noted the Green Seattle Partnership, working on 2500 acres citywide, is involved, and observed many restoration areas get “hit” by camping. They had to evaluate the trees for hazards to see if any trees were harmed by structural uses. They have started activating a city site “about five acres” – “last week we installed about 600 yards of mulch material to cover some of the bare ground” as well as “200 linear feet of erosion-control material” to protect “small creek areas in the ravine” and they are continuing work with a contractor and others to remove invasives including ivy that’s been attacking trees. “We’ll also go through there and take out a lot of the blackberries,” he said, and “come back later in the fall and plant some native shrubs and native trees” – averaging about 1,000 plants per acre, so that means 5,000 plants are planned in this five-acre area.
That wasn’t the entire work area, Jainga acknowledged in response to a question; WSDOT has 29 acres on the north, the city has five acres to the south, and the city acreage is where Parks is working. “This is the same method we used in 2015 in the East Duwamish Greenbelt where we restored over 28 acres” and they didn’t see camps return there, so they’re hopeful that will be the same. They’re also looking for more community volunteers to be forest stewards, he asked – contact the Green Seattle Partnership to get involved. email@example.com is who to contact.
Merriam also gave a shoutout to SDOT, SPU, and WSDOT for support.
Can anything more be done to discourage the illegal dumping that was a problem since long before the camping in that area?
Report it to Find It Fix It, was the answer. What about cameras? Nobody who came to the meeting would be involved with something like that, was the reply.
If you’re still having trouble envisioning what’s happening where – 36.5 acres were cleared, Jainga said, but south of the church are the five acres that the city owns and where they’re currently working on “activation.” To the north is WSDOT-owned property and the city is NOT doing followup work there.
So, said Willow, what IS being done in the WSDOT area?
Drake-Ericson said “As a community, continue to reach out to WSDOT, and let them know what your desires area.” Foley also suggested political pressure on local legislators, since WSDOT is a state agency.
Another question: What about the east-side area known as The Grotto? Some work is being done to try to restore that to a natural state because it’s part of the drainage area for local creeks, it was mentioned.
And: What about people returning to the site? Someone in the room said they had seen two people. While the city is not providing “security,” they promise “outreach,” said Drake-Ericson.
Jainga said they’re looking at “proposals” for activation of the aforementioned five acres after restoration – removal of invasives – possibly walking trails, for example. If someone sets up camp in their restoration area, Jainga said, they have to stop work.
Before the meeting wrapped up, C2C manager Davis offered praise for the cleanup effort too. “That was a LOT of work,” he said. “You handled yourself very well.”
Prompted by a committee member, Davis acknowledged they’ve noted evidence of possible short-term camping outside C2C on the Myers Way Parcels property – not long-term living, though, and he asked city reps to take a look at that.
Fulton offered general thanks to the city reps for their work; Gustaveson smiled, “We don’t hear that enough – so we’ll bring that back to (co-workers) tomorrow.”
NEXT MEETING: The C2C Community Advisory Committee meets first Sundays, 2 pm, in the community room at Arrowhead Gardens (9200 2nd SW), so the next meeting will be November 4th.