By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The tiny-house encampment Camp Second Chance will stay on the city-owned Myers Way Parcels at least one more year beyond the end of its current permit extension next March – with one big change:
The city will lease the land currently being used for the camp to Fauntleroy Church, which will take on the camp as what its pastor Rev. Leah Bilinski describes as a “missional outpost.”
This was announced at tonight’s public meeting about the encampment’s future, held at the city Joint Training Facility, a few blocks north of the site the camp’s been on for more than three years. (We recorded video of the meeting and will add it when it’s ready – update, both clips added inline below.)
The church and city reached a deal earlier this week – after the Fauntleroy congregation voted on Sunday to move ahead – but would not confirm it until tonight’s announcement; we had an embargoed conversation with Rev. Bilinski in advance. This had been months in the making, and the city had made no secret – as we reported back in June – that finding a faith-based sponsor would be an option. (CSC got its start at a church in unincorporated King County before moving to West Seattle in the summer of 2016.)
As explained by both the pastor and the city, the agreement is a draft right now, to be finalized within the next few months. LIHI remains the camp operator, with a contract with the city (we have a request out for the current amount of city money it receives), and “the city will continue to monitor the village for compliance and performance.” LIHI will also have an agreement with the church, spelling out who’s accountable for what in the partnership.
Speaking to the meeting tonight, Rev. Bilinski said, “We’re doing this because our faith calls us to follow Christ” – to stand with people in need, including those who are homeless, and -“we believe in the residents of Camp Second Chance … I don’t know a person who has walked into Camp Second Chance without being impressed,” and hopeful. It’s a strong community, she declared, “and we’re delighted to be a part of that.”
But she and city reps made it clear tonight – as she did in her earlier conversation with us – that no “proselytizing” will be involved at the camp, no religious activities or symbols, related to the church’s involvement.
What exactly will the church do at/for the camp? “We’re not sure yet what that will look like,” the pastor told WSB. Could be a “monthly meal, or community time together.” The agreement will not involve any exchange of money between the city and church, though certainly the sponsorship will have costs for the church, which has long been involved with helping those in need (and 12 years ago considered hosting an encampment). Rev. Bilinski said this new endeavor will be an extension of the church’s “justice work” – she says it’s easy to take on causes by writing letters, participating in protests, donating to charity, but this is more “direct action” in making a difference.
At the meeting, both she and the city stressed that this will make a difference by enabling the continuation of what is seen as a success story.
Lisa Gustaveson of the Human Services Department opened the meeting, and introduced the department director, Jason Johnson, who gave an overview of “what’s happening with the city around homelessness.” (video added)
He lives in West Seattle, he noted. He pointed out that other city department reps are here, as well as “people with the lived experience of homelessness – we need to hear from you.”
CSC is “one of the more successful shelter programs in the city,” he declared before going into a city overview (we’ll request the slide deck tomorrow) that said “the city of Seattle aims to make the experience of homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring.” He contended that the city’s “strategic change is starting to bear fruit .. real results.” The slide aid 1,836 households representing 3,042 individuals move from homelessness to housing.” (No time reference was given.)
Another slide: The city has 8 “villages” counting CSC, with nearly 300 spaces, and 37 percent exit rate to permanent housing (attributing that statistic to the start of 2019). CSC had a 44 percent exit rate to permanent housing as of the first of the year, according to the slide. “This is the resource that people want,” Johnson said, out of the options given to people. He clarified that the percentage is of the people exiting the village; 44 percent of those exiting went to permanent housing. He offered other praise for CSC, which he said served 104 households over the course of last year. He said two case managers are on site daily (that’s double what has been said in the Community Advisory Committee meetings we’ve covered).
“Camp Second Chance really is a model of what’s possible,” he concluded.
Gustaveson then moved to the announcement, and said this would be the third encampment with religious sponsorship, joining Othello Village and True Hope Village.
Questions from the audience followed, starting within nearby resident Carol asking what changed between January and June that caused “the increase in exiting.”
Camp manager/co-founder Eric Davis said encouragement for campers was the difference. (The applause he drew made it clear the audience was full of camp supporters.) Carol then asked if the city could improve the success rate, enabling shorter stays; Johnson said they are working continuously to improve.
Willow Fulton, a nearby resident who chairs the Community Advisory Committee, asked about how much of the property is involved in the agreement with the church; as noted above, it’s just the fenced area that holds the camp. The rest remains the responsibility of the city’s Finance and Administrative Services department.
Will the camp remain its curent size? asked another attendee. “There are no plans right now to do any major expansions of the size of the village,” said Gustaveson, though “a few units” (tiny houses) are expected to be added soon.
Where are the 56 percent who are exiting but not going to permanent housing going? They leave the Homeless Management Information System, said Johnson, so the city doesn’t track them – some go to transitional housing, some rejoin family.
Next question/comment: This program should be replicated elsewhere in the city – if it’s not, why not? Johnson reiterated that they have 8 villages in all, saying the model “mirrors enhanced shelter. … We’ve been expanding because we see this as a successful emergency shelter model.” It was also noted that the city budget about finalized for next year includes money for more tiny-house encampments.
Another audience member wondered why the city isn’t spending more on tiny-house encampments. Johnson said he agreed that they should be spending more on this type of shelter. “We are not yet doing enough.” He says his department’s role is to “continually elevate programs that work.” He also said he’s explained to the regional All Home board that tiny houses work the same way enhanced shelter does. So as a result, the feds will now recognize and count each unit in the eight villages as that type of shelter. Previously, tiny-house campers had to be counted as unsheltered.
Will the city remain engaged with the community under terms of the church agreement? Yes, said Johnson, the city’s role does not change, “we have an additional partner.”
Carol said the city-commissioned study best known as the “Poppe Report” is not being followed enough, and also that the minimum wage should be raised to $22 to get more people out of homelessness. (Someone a bit later suggested contacting city councilmembers to continue pursuing a tax on wealthy corporations.)
Camp manager Davis then wondered if the new agreement could also include the parking area right outside the canp’s gates. Gustaveson invited him to talk with her afterward. Another camp rep said they’re currently patroling it “24 hours a day.”
The open-mic questions/comments continued. A CSC camper said he wanted to offer praise for what’s happened. He said that just having a roof over his head “is a great feeling.”
Another CSC camper thanked the church and city “for allowing us to be us. … We feel the love that you all have for us.”
Yet another had words of praise for the camp’s community and how it’s brought him up out of the depths. “It helps change your life and … get going again.”
And then another camper said she’s there because she couldn’t afford housing costs and she’s “grateful.”
Then there were words of thanks for the longtime involvement of another church – Alki UCC – which has led the volunteer building of, and donated funding for, tiny houses at CSC.
COMMENTS? Gustaveson told attendees that they can contact her – 206-727-8496 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ONGOING INVOLVEMENT: One way to get involved, and/or surface questions/concerns, is via the monthly Community Advisory Committee meetings, usually the first Sunday of each month, 2 pm at Arrowhead Gardens (9200 2nd SW).