By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The growing encampment in the woods east of the north end of Myers Way [map] is currently the Southwest Precinct‘s second-highest call-generating location, police say. And that’s a major reason why it’s high on the priority list for a future site cleanup.
That’s what a room packed with dozens of concerned residents at Arrowhead Gardens – the senior-living complex across the street from that encampment – heard from a panel of city reps in a meeting Monday afternoon. You can see it in its entirety in the video below, recorded and provided by AG resident John Walling.
Resident Diane Radischat facilitated the meeting, with a city panel including Southwest Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner and Operations Lt. Dorothy Kim, the precinct’s City Attorney liaison Joe Everett, Tom Van Bronkhorst from the city’s homelessness-response-focused Unified Care Team, and another UCT rep, Marta Idowu, the Civil Rights Advisory Commission Liaison for the Mayor’s Office.
Danner began with a reminder of when to call 911: “SPD is very data-driven … we rely on our community to make sure the data is accurate … if you see any kind of criminal or suspicious activity, we want you to report it.” She said that in many cases, the “data” – records of 911 calls – doesn’t match what they hear at meetings like this, and indeed as the meeting went on, several people mentioned incidents that they hadn’t called in at the time.
But it was stressed that aside from criminal or suspicious activity, SPD is not the agency to call just to report an unauthorized encampment’s existence.
Van Bronkhorst added, “Our preferred way to get info about encampments is through the Find It Fix It app .. also the Citizens Service Bureau … from there it’s triaged by our customer-service department and sent to the (appropriate) department,” which will decide how to handle it from there. (The Citizens Service Bureau is at 206-684-CITY.) But he also offered the caveat that the city has more than 400 “active” encampment, so responses take time – “the more (a problem is) reported, the more chances there are for it to be prioritized.” (The prioritization process was extensively outlined by City Councilmember Lisa Herbold in this recent post.)
This site, Van Bronkhorst, is “complex,” because it has multiple owners (including state and city), a steep slope, “environmental concerns,” and he said that all meant that clearing it would “take some coordination … “we’re just beginning conversations to make a plan (with) a coordinated approach to address the encampment.” They have to have enough shelter/housing to offer to its residents, for example, though he added that “outreach has been going on for several months … (we) get to know them, get to know what their needs are.”
The Arrowhead Gardens residents expressed the feeling that their needs – primarily safety – were not being taken seriously. One asked, “When are you going to start caring more about us than you do about them?” Facilitator Radischat noted that there’ve been encampments off and on in that area “for a number of years” but “we actually feel endangered with this particular group of people unlike any other time.” That declaration drew applause. Their complex is a “little city with almost 600 vulnerable adults” but despite many apartments overlooking the encampment, they have “not seen anyone who seems to have any semblance of authority going into” the encampment, outreach or otherwisse.
When another resident complained that she had seen “three police cars looking at a stalled car” along Myers but ignoring the encampment, Lt. Kim explained again that encampment removals are for the Unified Care Team to address, not SPD. “It’s more complicated now than it used to be.” Danner reiterated that if criminal or suspicious activity is seen in the encampment – or anywhere else – that’s when SPD can respond.
Those who had called about various issues said they didn’t always see a police response. “When you call 911, say you want contact,” Danner advised. 911 is part of a different city department, but they’re the ones who prioritize where they send police, she said – “we don’t get to decide to not show up to calls.”
General concerns voiced about the encampment ranged from gunshots – one woman said bullets had hit her patio door – to fires to drug dealing/use to auto theft to a sign that had been displayed saying “rob and kill” – a sign one man said “was there for four weeks, staring at us.” Yet another resident said it looked like the campers are “polluting up a storm … they have backhoes in there cutting down trees and nobody cares.”
The repeated response was that they do care, that getting to action just takes time and planning. For the future clearance of the site, Lt. Kim said, “what we learned at 2nd and Michigan” – the recently cleared site by the 1st Avenue South Bridge – “was really valuable.” That site, too, is owned by multiple jurisdictions and required a lot of pre-cleanup logistics. “We have secured that area and we do have guidance to arrest for trespassing if (the site) is reoccupied … Trust me, it’s on everybody’s radar that this (Myers Way) encampment be removed, but it’s going to (take) a little bit of process).”
Around that point in the meeting, there was a brief disruption – someone could be heard yelling from the encampment, in view from the meeting-room windows. Attendees suggested the panel look out for an example of what they’re worried about. But the meeting continued, with a side concern about semi-truck parking along Myers and blocked lines of sight when residents try to leave the complex. The SPD reps promised to surface that to Parking Enforcement.
Then back to the encampment, and concerns that illicit activity has spilled over onto the AG grounds. “It’s just one thing after another,” declared a resident. “We’ve talked to police so many times, we tell (intruders) to get out of here, they come back an hour later.” How can they protect themselves walking the complex grounds? Danner mentioned the personal-safety classes she offers online.
At one point the discussion moved to how and where campers would find housing, when they’re moved (although it was made clear that no one can be forced to accept it). Van Bronkhorst said they had to have spaces in places such as “congregate shelter and tiny house villages.” Arrowhead Gardens is just a few blocks north of West Seattle’s only tiny-house village, Camp Second Chance, and residents made it clear they have no beef with CSC – “it DOES work.” (AG has supported CSC in a variety of ways including donation drives.) They wondered why authorities aren’t building more such villages; Van Bronkhorst acknowledged that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and the federal government are not big fans of tiny-house villages.
Before the meeting wrapped up, one man pointed out who was not there: “I don’t see anyone here from the City Council, or State of Washington lawmakers.” Everett suggested the residents proactively reach out to those leaders and others “to bring awareness to your issue.”
But there is awareness already, the city reps tried to assure attendees. Lt. Kim said, “I am super-positive going forward … this is a priority and I do believe it will get done sooner rather than later.”