Will community give Camp Second Chance a chance?

By Lindsay Peyton

All the seats were full at a meeting discussing “Camp Second Chance,” the new homeless encampment at Myers Way.

The line-up of speakers at the Joint Training Facility, 9401 Myers Way South, on Wednesday night, Feb. 1, included Captain Pierre Davis representing the Southwest Precinct of the Seattle Police Department who addressed safety concerns and Mike Ashbrook, director of facility operations, who explained plans to protect wetlands and prevent contamination on the property.

Rodney Maxie with the Seattle Department of Transportation, discussed infrastructure improvements planned for the area.

George Scarola, the city’s director of homelessness, explained that this was the second community conversation about the plan. The first was held in December.

“We listened carefully to the questions raised at that meeting,” he said. “This meeting is about trying to answer as many of those questions raised at that initial meeting as we possibly can.”

Jason Johnson, deputy director of human services department of Seattle, said that a year ago, three sanctioned encampments – Ballard, Interbay and Southeast Seattle at Othello – were approved.

On Dec. 1, 2016, the city added three more sanctioned encampments, located at 1000 S. Myrtle St, 8620 Nesbit Ave. N and 9701 Myers Way S. A fourth location will soon be included on the list, with the spot still to be determined.

Johnson said that at the last meeting concerning the Myers Way location, residents raised specific questions about operations.

He explained that one of the most common questions at the meeting concerned drug and alcohol use at the encampment. “You asked, ‘Will the encampment remain clean and sober?’ The answer is yes,” he said.

Johnson said the property, which has been open since the summer, can accommodate up to 50 units, serving 70 people maximum. The operator is faith-based nonprofit Patacara Community Services, he explained. Each location will also have its own community advisory committee.

Johnson said that other concerns centered on food storage, rodent abatement, trash removal and porta potties, which he explained are all part of operating budget. He said case management and a number of services are required to be on site.

He also addressed the possibility of adding tiny houses, instead of just tents, to the Camp Second Chance. Volunteers have already erected several of the structures at other encampments.

“Some were purchased by private organizations and some were developed on site to be incorporated into the community,” he said.

Johnson explained that after a year, the camp will be evaluated – and will be considered for an extended permit. “Two years is the most time an encampment can remain permitted at any one location,” he said.

Polly Trout, with local nonprofit Patacara Community Services, has worked with Camp Second Chance since June.

She said the space provides a much needed refuge for the homeless.

“The camp can be not just a safe place to be but also a healthy place for people who have recently been through a lot of trauma,” she said. “When you’re homeless, you absolutely must have a safe place to sleep.”

Trout added that the residents also need a secure place to leave their possessions during the day.

“At a very fundamental level, that’s what this camp does,” she said. “But at a greater level it’s a community where people experience kindness, real community, friendship, compassion, respect and dignity.”

Susan Fife-Ferris, with Seattle Public Utilities, said the site will receive regular trash services.

“This site will be treated like a regular commercial customer,” she said. “They will have a dumpster there, and it will get at least a minimum of weekly pickup.”

She added that a litter crew will also stop by weekly – and she encouraged residents to report any issues with illegal dumping by using the hotline or the “Find it, Fix it” mobile app.

Robert Stowers, division director of parks and environment for the city, discussed the long-term plan for the site, which will be turned into a park when the encampment closes.

“We have some ideas of how we’re going to fund a park -- but we’re going to have the community engaged in planning that park,” he said. “We will be coming out with our planners and our development people and we will be talking about what you want in a park. I can promise you will be engaged and it will be a park developed with your input.”

Stowers said about a dozen potential park sites are also waiting for funding. “We will overcome that,” he said.

When the discussion was opened up to the public, a long line formed of citizens, all eager to ask questions on a range of topics.

One resident Pat LeMoine handed out his own plan for providing housing for the homeless.

A number of residents requested a follow-up meeting on the topic – and Scarola agreed to host one. He said that he plans to meet with City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, District 1, who was also in the audience, to discuss the best options for proceeding forward.

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