By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When Camp Second Chance became city-sanctioned/funded in 2017, city law stipulated that authorized encampments could only stay at the same time for two years maximum.
Now the encampment on the city-owned Myers Way Parcels in southeast West Seattle is hoping that law will be changed so that it doesn’t have to move when its second sanctioned year expires in March, by which time it will actually have been at 9701 Myers Way S. for more than two and a half years.
Last night, the Highland Park Action Committee convened the second of two community meetings this week in West Seattle devoted to the camp’s future. Monday night, the Westside Interfaith Network – a consortium of local faith-based organizations – rallied camp supporters (WSB coverage here). The HPAC meeting, led by acting chair Gunner Scott, was more a “listening session” to find out where the community wants HPAC to “put its support” regarding the camp’s future.
Several of the encampment-extension supporters who spoke at Monday’s meeting also spoke last night, including three of the people who were with Scott at the table at the head of the room – camp co-founder and resident manager Eric Davis, Cinda Stenger from Alki UCC (and the C2C Community Advisory Committee), and Marty Westerman from the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition. Also at the table was Barbara Dobkin, vice president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, representing the communities neighboring the camp on the county side (White Center and Top Hat). We were able to record this meeting on video:
Here’s how it unfolded (followed by information on what happens next):
By way of introduction, Scott noted that he has gone in his life from homeless to homeownership. He also noted that Highland Park has hosted homeless encampments “for 10 years, from 2008 till now … What I have heard from some people is they’re tired … it’s not about Camp Second Chance,” or any other particular group, but there’s been crime and other problems, police presence and other city support have not increased, and the community in general “is chronically underresourced.” No library, no community center, many other things are missing or have been denied (like the recent repeat roundabout rejection), “we’re pretty much left on our own … For us, this is not about Camp Second Chance” – whose original sanctioning Scott had supported. It’s critical “that the burden of homelessness is not on one neighborhood.”
He handed the microphone to Davis, who said he feels bad for HP’s problems but the camp “is another community … we didn’t come here to be a burden … there’s strength in numbers … we learned to care for one another and support one another … we wanted those doors to stay open to have a really good quality of life while you’re homeless. … We make the best of where we are, doing what we do, encouraging and uplifting and motivating each other daily.” He said the camp, which usually has about 50 residents, is a “gated community” whose members are not out hassling others. “They realize that they are somebody, and there are times when they didn’t realize they are somebody … We just wanted a little space until (there’s a space) we can afford to pay rent … and let us co-exist with the park …” He invited everyone to visit: “You’ve gotta come out there. It’s a warm inviting place. We don’t need much … we got ourselves.”
Westerman spoke next, noting that in his other role as co-chair of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition, he’s disappointed about something Scott had mentioned in other HPAC business at the meeting’s start, the roundabout denial announced two weeks ago (WSB coverage here). “West Seattle would be the seventh largest city in the state” if it was a city (again), and it deserves more attention. He said that SGSC sees C2C as providing safe transitional housing for homeless people. He noted that SGSC mobilized people to keep the city from selling off the Myers Way Parcels, instead keeping it as a future park. “We got pulled into the homeless issue because throughout the parcels there were encampments.” Hearing that public land should be used for housing or parks, Westerman said, this is an area that is used for both, and it “seems to be working well. … What we would like to see is to look at (the camp) as not another burden for the community but as a model for what other communities can become. … a unique opportunity.”
Stenger spoke next. She is a lay leader at Alki UCC, which has raised money and organized volunteers to build tiny houses at the encampment. “We want to partner with you, we want to partner with Highland Park to address the lack of equity in the city.” She said a long retail career has given her experience in knowing what a well-run organization looks like: “Camp Second Chance is not Nickelsville.” The latter was “chaotic,” she said; C2C is not – it has rules, and those rules are enforced. “It builds that family, that community, that so many (don’t have) in their lives.” The camp needs more social services and a training program, she said, maybe through South Seattle College (WSB sponsor), and, she said, new state Sen. Joe Nguyen is interested in bringing state resources there.
NHUAC’s Dobkin followed. She acknowledged that C2C is a model but “our community has not been in the discussion … has had no say … but is most affected by what goes on on Myers Way.” The unsanctioned camping and other problems there have forced residents to be “defending their homes … our community is what feels the brunt of what goes on, on Myers Way.” North Highline has the highest poverty rate and the lowest median income, “a lot of people struggling … For the city to move more poverty to our border” is unfair, she said, pointing out that North Highline is also low on services. “I think camps like this would be better served where there are more services.” She acknowledged “this is a hard discussion …I work in health care. I deal with a lot of people (who are) suffering, on a daily basis.” But bottom line, this is a matter of policy and (city) politics more than anything, she said.
Then the floor was opened to anyone who had something to say for up to two minutes.
Judi Carr, a resident of Arrowhead Gardens a few blocks north of the camp, who also spoke Monday night, went first, recounting tha she had toured the camp on Monday. People there say they “feel safe.” The camp is considered a sanctuary where people “feel safe,” she said, and it’s a “model environment for responsible homeless people.” She also invited people to the camp CAC meetings on first Sundays.
Next, Boots Winterstein of Highland Park. She said she appreciates HPAC’s work. “I am very much in support of Camp Second Chance, from the people I know who are there … I believe in it, I believe we can be good neighbors to each other.” She said she hears Dobkin’s concerns: “I think we have to deal with this as partners … (The camp) is not people leaving their junk around, people breaking in … I would like to see it stay so there is not more transition” for its residents.
Bill McTaggart of Highland Park said he is “highly in favor” of the camp, with the caveat that they hold the city and county council’s “feet to the fire.” He said he hasn’t yet seen the city and county work together on “the homeless problem” as they had promised. He suggested there should be more camps like this around the city. He said he keeps asking the city for numbers on the success of its efforts in responding to homelessness. C2C itself is transparent, he said.
They were the only Highland Park residents who took the opening invitation to speak first. HPAC’s Scott next opened the floor to all.
Pat LeMoine, Myers Way resident, then stood up. “I’d like to ditto what Barbara Dobkin said,” and, he said, the city could have fast-tracked housing and had everyone in the camp housed. “The city of Seattle promised my community two years (of the camp) and then they’d move … the city also wants to annex my neighborhood” and breaking a promise about the camp wouldn’t be making a good impression on that front.
Chris, a Camp Second Chance resident, said that he has a concern for those who wonder about the city not spending money to improve Highland Park – moving the camp would cost an estimated $300,000, so why not spend that money on improving HP instead?
Carol, a Myers Way resident, asked who in the room had read the Barbara Poppe report, commissioned by the city but “ignored,” she said. (A few hands were raised.) As for her neighborhood: “We’ve been treated really poorly … we would like to see Camp Second Chance in a real house, real housing, with walls.” She also wondered how the dollars are being spent, saying online accountability hadn’t been available for months.
Willow Fulton, another resident in the area close to C2C (also the chair of the C2CCAC and a Monday night speaker) said that she has “put myself in all the places where discussion is happening about this camp, and I have been welcomed.” She feels that neighborhood concerns “are being heard.” She noted the other “unsavory activity” along Myers Way, including illegal dumping that has nothing to do with camps sanctioned or unsanctioned, and she thinks the camp’s presence at least brings some city attention to the area. “If we move Camp Second Chance,” an unsanctioned camp will pop up.
Sal, a West Seattle resident, said he and his friends “have been feeding the homeless … for a year and a half.” He said the situation has just “exploded … there are campers everywhere.” He spoke about meeting young homeless people on Capitol Hill. Now they’re working with C2C, “and it’s amazing,” but unfortunately the rest of Myers Way got busy too. He thinks the city could move RVs to the port’s largely unoccupied Terminal 5. If it’s decided that C2C must move “it’s going to cost more to move than keep it.”
Another man said he had asked two years ago, will they move in two years? “There was no equivocation – yes, they’ll put the tiny houses on pallets and move them … if this gets approved by the city, it’s a lie, and it will never go away, ever.”
A former Top Hat resident said he once was doing well and then “lost it all” and saw how people treated him differently. “How are we going to get through this if we don’t all get together and work through it? That will solve homelessness.”
Tomasz Biernacki, a West Seattleite who volunteers with tiny-house building at Camp Second Chance and also spoke Monday, said a Kitsap County commissioner was bringing an entourage there (today) – “hey are coming to Camp Second Chance to see how to copy it; that should say a lot about he success of this camp – the quality of the management, and the success.”
Zsa Zsa, a C2C resident who (as she told Monday night’s meeting) will be moving out to permanent housing soon, spoke about the city cleanup across the street four months ago. “Since that happened, Camp Second Chance (has not had to report unsanctioned campers). … It takes a community, it takes a village, to (deal with) this problem.” She said they were “honored and humbled” to be there.
Denise from Roxhill, “a friend of Camp Second Chance,” followed. She said she appreciates the camp’s generosity and sense of community, and often brings her 9-year-old daughter there. She said she feels fortunate to have bought a house near the turn of the millennium, because her mortgage is less than some people pay for rent. “When you say ‘go get a house,’ there is no house to go to that people can afford.”
Next speaker said she and her husband live at C2C but also now have a voucher and will be moving out to housing.
Terri, who lives in White Center/Top Hat but used to live in Highland Park and was an early HPAC member, said she feels Camp Second Chance “does a great job” but it’s the people “outside who are causing the problems,” and after the September sweep, people sent out of the unauthorized encampment wound up fouling her neighborhood.
Serena, a C2C resident, said she has dealt with drug use and mental illness, and she was apprehensive about the camp but then “felt at home, safe, welcome” and has “been sober since” and in treatment, “with a whole new sense of who I am … because of (how she’s ben treated) at Camp Second Chance.” She said she empathized with Highland Park’s need for support and suggested C2C could support the quest for that.
Kay from Highland Park spoke of her neighborhood’s bonds – “the community is the important part” and if C2C has that, “it’s the most important part.” She wonders if the camp or the comunity is the important part. “Watching my own neighborhood, every time a house gets torn down … I see another trailer show up in the park … I can see the correlation, right here in this neighborhood … I don’t want to see us using people’s lives as a bargaining chip.”
Shelly, another C2C resident, said she had spent a few months at another camp and it didn’t work out. “All I want to say is … I wrote a poem .. it might give you an idea.” She says she and her mom together don’t make enough to rent an apartment – “if not for Camp Second Chance, we would be sleeping in my mom’s car still,” one in the front seat, one in the back seat.
Carol then said that everything she’d heard described could be happening in a building and that the people should demand a roof over their head.
Willow stood up again. “I agree that it seems like there should be more and other things …I’ve learned getting involved with this that (it’s all) extremely complex .. (meantime) there’s a flat place with gravel surrounded by some trees (that might be a park someday) … there is so much more we can do with that community if we have a collaboration with Camp Second Chance.”
With one more call for people to speak, another woman who identified herself as a supporter of the camp called attention to the list of supporters of the camp (shown on this one-sheet that was distributed by camp supporters at both meetings), saying she is proud to get to “participate ina personal way in the homeless dilemma we’re all facing.” Those who get involved can “feel we are part of a solution … these are peple we’re talking about, not a principle we’re talking about.”
Pat Lemoine then spoke again: “We live in the richest nation in the world … we shouldn’t have homelessness. The whole point we were told when you guys were building … that (the tiny houses) could be move. So the expense of moving should be null and void.”
Kay then asked if there were other options on the table.
Another man said low-income housing needs to be built so there are places for people to go.
The panelists got a chance for closing remarks:
Davis: “Regarding moving and where to go, that’s not jut a camp decision, that’s a city decision … everywhere you go there’s some form of community … it’s very rare to find a group (like this).”
Stenger: “We’re in a homeless crisis because we’re in a housing crisis. … a rich city that is expanding and developing and people are being pushed out …” especially the elderly, she said. “Yes, the city ssaid for the ordiance, two years, but beaus of the situation we find ourselves in … these are peronal lives of people experiencing homelessness …” and disrupting their livs would be unconscionable. She said that those who work, work locally, and repeated what others had said, that moving would be expensive.
Westerman: “Nobody wants to live in poverty …there’s a permanent underclass who can’t get out of poverty … what we want is the most vehicles possible for people to get ut of poverty.” He noted that Dobkin observed that a homeless encampment attracts other homeless people. He said he had suggested campers including RVs be moved to T-5 but meantime they are where they are
Dobkin: “Our community has taken the brunt of what a lot of other communities wouldn’t take .. we’re acceptnig … regarding C2C, it’s nothing against the folks who are living there, you’re a great model, but you’ve been pushed to the edge, you’ve been pushed to the North Highline community.” She said that if an exception is granted, it’s two more years, “another two years, and another two years … I feel we weren’t told what the future is, with the site.”
Scott pointed out that “the law says this would be for two years … we need to deal with some of the other issues in the neighborhood … we’ve had two women on my street who’ve lived in their cars for three years and because of mental health issues are feeding raccoons, who are attacking dogs … we don’t even have sidewalks in many places” .. He said that he too was very involved in advocating to keep Myers Way Parcels, but “we are stretched very thin” …. he has time to volunteer “but that’s not the case for a lot of people in our neighborhood … this at the end of the day has never been about Camp Secodn Chance … the city has not engaged with (HPAC) …” He spoke of countless “angry letters,” time on the phone, advocacy at City Hall.
WHAT’S NEXT, FOR HPAC: Notes from the meeting will be posted online; the HPAC website is also where you can sign up for updates and a forthcoming survey. As outlined on the website: “After the meeting a survey will be sent out via our e-list (get your neighbors to sign up!) to also assess the neighborhood’s desire on how HPAC should proceed.”
Parting words: “At the end of the day, me personally, it’s a struggle … but the city is not dealing with” various problems – “We’ve just had it. That’s the other side. It’s the policy makers who’ve put us in this fake fight. I’m glad you’re here, learning about our community and us learning about yours.”
WHAT’S NEXT, FOR THE CITY, AND YOUR INPUT: We asked Will Lemke, spokesperson for the city’s homelessness response efforts:
City representatives were at both community meetings this week, listening and gathering input from these community-led sessions. Additionally, we have been receiving correspondence (Specifically, letters supporting Camp Second Chance from the Puget Ridge Cohousing Association) conveying community feedback about Camp Second Chance. We encourage community members to continuing writing us with their input via the following email address: Homelessness@Seattle.gov
The City is evaluating next steps at this time. We will have more information pertaining to process/next steps soon.