Myers Way encampment: As-it-happened coverage of city-organized meeting
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This was published as-it-happened on our partner site West Seattle Blog. The software there is misbehaving and is refusing to accept more comments on the story, so we’re cross-posting it here, where we use a different template that shouldn’t be experiencing the problem, which we’re trying to troubleshoot. Oddly, the last time we had the same problem was while live-chronicling a meeting last summer about a related topic at the same place.)
7:03 PM: We’re at the Joint Training Facility on Myers Way, a short distance north of the encampment that the city plans to change into a larger, sanctioned encampment. This is the first major meeting since that announcement. The city’s director of homelessness, George Scarola, is emceeing. He promises to answer questions that were raised at the smaller December meeting that followed the announcement. We’ll be updating as this goes.
First bit of news from Scarola – apparently Polly Trout of Patacara Community Services will be the camp’s operator “if we clear all the hurdles.” Her nonprofit has been supporting it.
Now, a list of speakers. First, Jason Johnson, deputy director of the Human Services Department, which is accountable for dealing with homelessness. He directs those interested to the city’s online FAQs resulting from their first three sanctioned encampments (Myers Way will be one of three more announced so far).
He confirms Patacara will be the operator, that it will remain a “clean and sober” encampment, and that it’s expected to grow to “50 units – about 70 people.” The encampment, as a sanctioned camp, will have an “operating budget” including trash, rodent abatement, toilets. What about “tiny houses” at this camp, as with the others sanctioned by the city? Johnson didn’t directly answer it but said the others have some but didn’t start out that way. Timeline: One year, with a potential renewal for a second year. “Two years is the maximum an encampment can remain permitted at any one location.” And the operator is expected to set up a “community advisory committee.”
Two questions from attendees: From a resident at nearby Arrowhead Gardens – what does “basic hygiene services” mean – will they have portable showers? Johnson says they’re still working on the contract and budget and don’t know yet. From someone else: What happens to the camp residents after those (potential) 2 years? Johnson says there will be “case management and services (at the site) … to continuously work to help people to navigate … into whatever is better, next, for them” – housing, “reunification with family,” etc.
Second, Patacara’s Trout, who says she’s been working with Camp Second Chance since June.
“(It) is a really extraordinary community,” she said, calling it an “organized, ethical, diligent group of people.” She says it can be “a healthy place for people who have recently been through a lot of trauma,” and a “safe place” as well as a place where people are “experiencing kindness.” Partnering with the city will “improve the physical quality of life” there, including water and Dumpsters. She promises that the camp will be “good neighbors to the housed neighbors in the neighborhood.”
1st question for her, what about the trash from unauthorized camping across the street? That’s not in her bailiwick, she says, but they might have “litter patrols.”
2nd question – who are/will be there? What ages? “We’re not going to have any children in the camp,” Trout replied. And “the intake process is managed in a democratic way by the camp itself.”
One attendee interjects that the camp originally turned up on the Myers Way Parcels site “because it broke through a fence … there was no community involvement.”
Next speaker, Mike Ashbrook from the city Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which is accountable for the site as city property. He says “the plan is to quarantine off the wetlands and any known sensitive areas we have” but also to protect access for City Light and others who need to get to part of the site.” “We also understand that the site has contamination issues,” and says they have been working with King County Public Health to “try to mitigate” that. He mentions the kiln dust “in a define area” and says test wells have been drilled to confirm it’s not spreading out. An attendee challenges that and offers a thumb drive that he says has a report on it showing otherwise.
Attendee question: “Why didn’t you plan these things about water and garbage before you started, instead of now saying ‘you’re gonna, you’re gonna’?” Ashbrook says they are “allowed” to provide those services “once a camp gets sanctioned.”
7:29 PM: Next, Susan Fife-Ferris from Seattle Public Utilities, saying, “I’m here to talk garbage.” The camp has gotten “bag service” so far, she says, but will be delivering a Dumpster on Friday. (Added: Photo we took of the bag stack north of the camp earlier today)
She says there’s been a “litter crew” cleaning along Myers Way at least weekly. “If you see an illegal dump, use Find It Fix It or call our illegal-dumping line, and we will clean it up within 10 business days” – if it’s on public property/right of way. She also mentions the sharps program and says you can report those and they will be picked up within 24 hours; there are six drop boxes around the city, and they can be dropped at the South Transfer Station (which is in nearby South Park). She insists the campers “want to be good neighbors” in terms of keeping things cleaned up.
First attendee question for her: How do homeless people have so much garbage? Fife-Ferris says that’s “personal” so she can’t really answer that but she expects a “significant decrease” once the Dumpster is being provided. Second is about sharps disposal, and she and Scarola reiterate the 24-hour commitment.
Next speaker – Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis.
He gets applause, but the cheers are even louder for Community Police Team Officer Todd Wiebke, the precinct’s point person on homelessness-related issues. Davis mentions a department “navigation team” of eight who will be handling these issues citywide. He says that Camp Second Chance is well-organized in his view, compared to others he’s dealt with. Switching gears, he says that if there are any “criminal issues … that we need to know about,” don’t hesitate to report it.
Questions: The audience member who’s been challenging speakers says he’s waited “hours” for police response. “Do you have any numbers about how much better it’s going to get?” Davis replied, “No one should have to wait that long. (But) we do not dispatch from our precinct – calls go through 911, and they prioritize.” So, the audience member says, “how can you commit to any improvement?” Davis admits they might not be able to, because officers are not dispatched from the precinct. “That’s not acceptable.” It’ll have to be, for now, Davis says, adding that he would love to have more officers.
Gunner Scott from Highland Park Action Committee, a nearby community council, asks how SPD will work with KCSO, which apparently doesn’t have a representative here, given the camp is close to the border. Who do you call, what do you do, if a criminal crosses the line? Scott says that Camp 2nd Chance isn’t the problem so much as the RVs along the street. “There’s a lot of real estate out there… some is city of Seattle, some is King County,” and KCSO has resource challenges too, he notes.”If there’s an issue where we can collaborate,” they do. “We put the best effort we possibly can with the resources we have to get out there and get after our bad guys.” He mentions the precinct’s new bicycle team, 6 officers and a sergeant (at another meeting we covered recently, it was mentioned they are still awaiting bicycles for four of them). He said they are going down the hillside on the east side, into the “Grotto” area among other areas.
Next question: An attendee says he understands that SPD has been told to “stand down” on some crimes, so can people be told which ones. He says he witnessed an assault and an unsatisfactory police response when Camp Second Chance arrived last summer. “First of all, there is no ‘stand down’ process,” Davis replies. “We can only go by the information that’s given us” in terms of making an arrest.
After that, a nearby resident says when she calls 911 to report a problem, the dispatcher has no idea what area they are talking about, so can the dispatchers be better-educated in where Myers Way is? “That sounds like something we need to work on,” Capt. Davis agrees. Maybe, he says, SPD can even meet with dispatchers, and he then suggests that having a dispatch-center rep at the next meeting would be a good idea. “And King County Sheriffs,” someone else calls out.
7:50 PM: Back when “Nickelsville” was in Highland Park, no matter how the camp was run, it was an “attractive nuisance” drawing trouble to the surrounding area, the next person points out, so what can be done about that? Davis says that’s a “polarizing issue” and they’re trying to figure out “how to tackle that.” He said the SPD “navigation team” will be dealing with that.
Now, another city manager, Rodney Maxie of Seattle DOT, who says that street maintenance and urban forestry are among the divisions for which he is accountable. He says he hears a Find It Fix It Walk is coming up here soon – local community leaders say, “News to us! When?” – and Scarola says, we’re announcing it now. Apparently it will be in Highland Park. No date yet.
He acknowledges issues with “borders” on city, county, state land in the area and says various city departments have formed a new partnership with WSDOT to take on these issues. In response to a question, he says agencies/jurisdictions are “coming together” to clean up areas no matter whose land they’re happening on.
“You could take care of a lot of problems if you put up signs saying ‘no overnight camping along Myers Way,” suggests an attendee. Maxie says that they have to “assess the constitutionality of everything and make sure we’re treating everybody fairly.” He also says they are working on addressing “new no-parking zones” regarding RVs as well as other vehicles.
8 PM: An attendee asks about issues brought up regarding another of the three upcoming sanctioned encampments – one to be opened in Georgetown – and pedestrian issues. Maxie says some sidewalk, barrier, traffic-calming improvements are being planned. “When will it be implemented?” Maxie replies, “Probably in the next few weeks – it’s going to be really quick.” He then mentions this is a different situation, starting as an unsanctioned encampment that the city has decided to sanction.
HPAC’s Scott says they asked about lighting on Myers Way at the December meeting, and wonders what is planned. Maxie says the Find It Fix It walk can address that – and attendees say, no, that’s not going to be a Myers Way Find It Fix It. Maxie starts to say that there are issues raised by lighting. Scarola apologizes for not addressing this, while saying, “That’s a tough issue, lighting.” Scott challenges, “When will we get an answer? Friday?” Scarola says it was “my mistake,” and promises an answer by the end of February.
Final city speaker, Robert Stowers from Seattle Parks, to talk about the long-term plan for Myers Way Parcels. He says it will be a “few years” before FAS transfers the land to Parks, and they will have to examine their funding for what they can do. He promises that the city will come out then and “engage” the community about “what you want in a park.”
“We want it now!” somebody shouts out. “We don’t have the land yet,” Stowers reiterates. Parks already has “about a dozen landbanked sites waiting to be parks” around the city, he notes. (Three of them are in West Seattle.)
First question is more of a statement – Seattle Green Spaces Coalition is going to be “visioning” for the land’s future, and invites Parks to participate. Someone else suggests that the city should put some money into development in exchange for the area “hosting” the camp.
When will the date for the transfer be announced? HPAC’s Scott says. No answer to that.
What about Hamm Creek? is another question. Since it’s not Parks property, Stowers says, he doesn’t know.
8:09 PM: The speakers are done, and now it’s on to a general Q/A period.
Officer Wiebke takes on the Hamm Creek question. Dealing with campers in that area “is going to be whack-a-mole,” he says. When was the last time you went into that area? an attendee asks. “Probably a couple weeks,” Wiebke replies. He adds that while he believes he’ll be safe heading into that area, policy requires that he have “resources” with him if he goes into the area. He mentions a 2-day project late last year that cleaned up the area – “you probably remember the tractors.”
But, “I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a cleanup where we’ve gotten everything.” He answers the question asked earlier about “why so much trash” – “A lot of these people are outdoor hoarders,” because of mental challenges, he says. He mentions finding bicycle frames but not being able to match them to owners because “most people don’t register their (bicycles).”
Back to Hamm Creek, he says the water and soil have been tested – he doesn’t know how recently, but has not heard of any pollution problems detected. “I don’t think they’re (relieving themselves) directly in the stream.”
Question for Trout – is one Dumpster enough? (And other refuse concerns.) Fife-Ferris from SPU answers instead. The Dumpster might be picked up daily, she says – they will expect Trout to tell them how often they need pickup. Might be “two Dumpsters picked up every other day.” Trout says she talked with Waste Management about one Dumpster each for trash, recycling, composting, and that they hope to help pick up the rest of Myers Way.
Scarola at this point mentions that City Councilmember Lisa Herbold is here. She wants to ensure the written record of the meeting is kept, so dates can be followed up on, etc. Scarola agrees to that.
Next person is local resident Pat Lemoine, who says he has an alternative plan “that could get everybody in Camp Second Chance into homes in the next week for $600,000.” How much is the encampment budget? he asks. Human Services Department rep Johnson says that the budget for all the sanctioned encampments is less than $1 million.
The next question is about more specifics regarding the partnership between SPD and KCSO. Are there regular meetings, etc.? No, Capt. Davis says, the structure “depends on whatever happens across the borders.” He says other department reps, however, are often at the SPD SeaStat meetings. He mentions the prospect of annexation, and that has put an extra spotlight on the area. He mentions a crackdown led by an multi-agency task force a few years back.
Brought up next – a sinkhole problem in the area, “8 feet across and 30 feet deep,” Officer Wiebke says, “near the church.” He says he’s not sure whether “piping” was to blame, but SDOT came out, “filled the hole back in.” It was first reported by “a homeless lady living right next to it,” who told him that the soil moves in the area so “at night you can hear the trees twisting and turning.”
Next is the attendee who says he’s been attacked by “forest and RV campers,” and wants more of a commitment to “making our neighborhood more safe.” He says he was advised by deputies and officers that he was told he should carry a firearm if he’s going into that area. Capt. Davis said he doesn’t know the context of the conversation but says that if they’re going into that area to report things via Find It Fix It, “give us a call.” “So what kind of response can we expect” with that kind of response? is the followup – what kind of time commitment? “Give us a call,” Capt. Davis reiterates.
At this point, Scarola tries to say they have to wrap up the meeting due to a promise to be done by 8:30. Several people are still in line. If they go fast, they can do it, Scarola agrees. First person wants more King County reps at future meetings. Next, were any King County elected officials invited to this meeting? No. “Sounds like I’m going to fix that,” Scarola adds. Next, Randy from South Park says that the “disconnect between 911 and precinct officers” is a long-running citywide problem. He also says that local leaders should be told that permanent housing is needed so people don’t have to live in encampments. That drew applause.
What community outreach was done about this encampment plan? the next person asks, saying he had only heard a bit about this before. “How do you keep the dialogue open with the most amount of people who are going to be affected by this homeless encampment in our backyard, in addition to all the RVs and the trash?” Scarola says the Community Advisory Committee will have a role, as will organizations such as the White Center Community Development Association.
“We have to do a better job,” Scarola says.
Next: “We are in a state of emergency on homelessness, declared in 2015,” says a woman. “The only difference is that the people in the camp are unhoused. We are human beings and it is a human right to have affordable housing.” She was applauded. “We are human beings and we deserve to live with dignity.”
Mary Fleck from the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition says they are engaged currently in wanting to take of the land and wants Parks to commit “to meet with us and work with us now,” not in several years. She asks Stowers to meet with them and he agrees, while reiterating that Parks doesn’t own the property yet. “But yeah, we can start talking right now,” he says.
Following that, a question about the first sanctioned encampments, which Johnson says have just been renewed through this year. “What happens to those people” after this year? he’s asked. He says it’s not a “static” group of people, but he doesn’t have data about how many have moved into housing.
Then Christopher speaks and says he’s a camper, though not in the encampment. “Homelessness, houselessness, is a never-ending problem if we don’t come together” to solve it. He is on the verge of tears.
Scarola then summarizes the meeting as “respectful and positive” and says “the issues that have been raised are all legitimate, and they deserve a hearing.” He says there are various agencies to which you can report problems, and waves a card that has hotline numbers on it.
It’s also mentioned that the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meets tomorrow night (7 pm, North Highline Fire District, 1243 SW 112th).
8:39 PM: Meeting’s over. We’ll be adding more photos and links when we’re back at HQ.
9:24 PM: We spoke with Scarola post-meeting. He said yes, there will be another meeting, as had been requested, date/”form” TBD. The Find It Fix It Walk for Highland Park is likely to be in “late spring,” he said.
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February 8th, 2017 at 5:42 pm
My understanding is that there are shelters throughout downtown that are not “full” many times during the week. Why? Because we “allow” and “condone” people living on the street.Totally unacceptable. They move indoors, stay clean,
behave responsibly or they are shipped out of town.Pandering to them has only made the problem worse….