Letter to City of Seattle Director of Homelessness – HPAC’s request regarding sanctioning Myers Way encampment

To: George Scarola, Director of Homelessness
CC: Seattle City Council
Human Service and Public Health Committee
Dominique Stephens, Office of the Mayor, External Affairs

December 13, 2016

Mr. Scarola,

Thank you for reaching out to the neighborhoods surrounding Myers Way Parcel last week and beginning the discussion about sanctioning the encampment of Camp Second Chance.

Highland Park Action Committee (HPAC) is Highland Park’s Community Group. We are an all volunteer & not for profit neighborhood organization and our role is to be an advocate for Highland Park and to affect positive change in our neighborhood. For the last several years, we have advocated for infrastructure including crosswalks, sidewalks, trails, safety enhancements, zoning changes for affordable housing, and additional resources so we can continue to build a thriving interconnected community.

Since the announcement from the Mayor’s office on December 1, 2016 about Myers Way Parcel as one of the three new homeless encampments sites, Highland Park Action Committee (HPAC) has heard from many neighbors about their questions, concerns and fears, as well as support for Camp Second Chance.

HPAC wants to be part of the solution to ending homelessness in the City of Seattle.

We want to support our homeless community members. Our intention is not to pit the neighborhood against Camp Second Chance.  In order for this encampment to be successful, we also need the City to work with us. The announcement did however raise questions of equity of resources and parity with other parts of Seattle.

What we want is accountability from the City of Seattle to the neighborhoods surrounding Myers Way Parcel.

Accountability for both those who are dealing with homelessness and for the renters, homeowners, and businesses in Highland Park and the neighborhoods that surround Myers Way Parcel.

When Camp Second Chance arrived at Myers Way at the end of June 2016, members of HPAC visited and talked with those living there, we also brought supplies, and later, advocated for the encampment. When the threat to evict the Camp came down this past summer, HPAC steering committee members reached out to Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s office asking that the camp not be evicted. Having met with the campers and seen how it was run as a clean and sober environment and understanding that Myers Way was a last option until they could go back sometime in early 2017 to the church in Tukwila that was hosting them previously we felt that evicting this group was not what we wanted to see, nor do we want to see now. Stability is what will help folks get back on their feet.

In October, HPAC held an educational panel with Polly Trout, Ph.D., Founder, Patacara Community Services, a member from the encampment, and Ruth Herbold, Executive Director of Elizabeth Gregory Home, to help the Highland Park and the greater communities surrounding Myers Way have better understand the issues and experiences that folks dealing with homeless face as well to dispel negative stereotypes about who is homeless. We did this to build compassion and understanding, knowing that the Camp Second Chance was there and probably would be for some time.

Now that the encampment is to be sanctioned, what can we expect? That was the question we were hoping to get answered last week, but many felt they left with more questions than answers that night.

The City of Seattle has had sanctioned encampments for over a year now and yet, we have not been given a concrete plan what will happen and what we can expect.

We are requesting the City for a plan on how additional resources will be provided to mitigate the impact an encampment will have on the neighborhood.

This plan should be for the entire neighborhood, not just logistics for how the camp will be set up and what amenities will be provided to the encampment, but what the City will also do to provide additional resources and services for neighbors living around the encampment.

We are asking the City to develop an encompassing Neighborhood Protocols for Sanctioned Encampments for Highland Park and surrounding neighborhoods and any other neighborhoods in the future when establishing an encampment. This plan would prepare neighbors for what to expect in terms of additional resources, help build relationships, repair trust with the City, and to reduce anxiety for neighbors, including our renters, homeowners, students, and elderly.

Suggested Neighborhood Protocols for Sanctioned Encampments

For the Neighborhood

  1. Transparency:

    1. Provide information what other sites were investigated and the reasons why that site was chosen.

      1. For the Myers Way site – why no other site in West Seattle were viable.

    2. Provide information on how the race and social justice tool was used in deciding upon the proposed site.

    3. Identify and work with the neighborhood groups/committees to put together community info sessions including locations, dates, and outreach methods to present the plan for the neighborhoods and the encampment.

    4. Develop outreach materials that are multilingual and provide language and sign interpreters at community meetings.

    5. Utilize trained facilitators to run community meetings and have present the Dept. of Neighborhoods, Dept of Health, Director of Homelessness, SPD, the non-profit charged with outreach and support of the encampment, and any other relevant Departments and decision makers that can answer questions and make decisions. Take our feedback and incorporate any additional needs/resources.

    6. Publish final plan prior to encampment being permitted.

  2. Accountability:

    1. Provide a written agreement between Neighborhood Group(s) and the City on how long the site will remain, the size of the encampment, how the encampment will be constructed, and how it will be deconstructed.

      1. For the Myers Way site – we are requesting the one year permit for the sanctioned encampment to be retroactive to when the camp was established in July 1, 2016. Therefore, a one year permit until July 1, 2017.

      2. That Highland Park, Myers Way or any other sites in the surrounding South Delridge/Westwood/Roxbury Hill/ Arbor Heights/White Center/North Highline area will not be chosen again for 10 years.

      3. The Myers Way encampment will not grow beyond 35 tents and up to 50 people and will continue as a clean and sober camp.

      4. Why is it tents and not tiny homes?

    2. Provide a plan and outline the increase of police, fire, EMS, and other services.

      1. Specific to Myers Way – outline of how situations will be handled that cross city lines between Seattle Police and King County Sheriff’s office.

    3. Assign a consistent contact person within the City to be a single point of contact for neighbors and businesses for specific issues related to the encampment, as well as the unsanctioned encampments/RVs in the area, outside of any emergency situations.

      1. This contact person should coordinate any needs between other departments – such as SPU, SDOT, etc…

    4. Implement programs to help reduce homelessness and crime such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and REACH

      1. In Highland Park and South Delridge within the next 3-6 months.

    5. Provide a timeline and plan for addressing existing unsanctioned encampments and RVs in the area and how any future unsanctioned encampments that may develop as a result of the sanctioned encampment being in the area will be handled.

    6. Provide a timeline and plan for addressing existing abandoned homes/squatters in the area.

    7. Evaluate and increase of lighting in the area – especially near any bus stops, residential and business properties and have regular trash/dumping pick up.

      1. Provide regular trash/dumping pick up at least 2x per week for any problem areas that surround an encampment on Myers Way

    8. Plan and execute regular public education sessions on issues of homelessness and substance abuse with the appropriate non-profits for the community at large.

    9. Provide updates and feedback sessions via community meetings at least every three months in addition to the community advisory council.

    10. Provide each of the local community groups the opportunity to each have a seat on the community advisory council.

Understand the Impact of Stressful Environments on Neighborhoods

In addition to developing and implementing Neighborhood Protocols for Sanctioned Encampments, City officials are encouraged to learn the history of the neighborhood in order to understand what the challenges have been, including issues with crime and how that has been addressed, past encampments, issues with unsanctioned camps, issues of infrastructure need and unmet requests, and the demographics of the neighborhood. Having this understanding going into a neighborhood will help to build trust and working relationships with community members.

If the neighborhood has had a history of chronic environmental stress and/or community trauma, as Highland Park has, it undermines both individual and community resilience in a neighborhood. Social disorganization, crime, and signs of physical deterioration (e.g. vacant housing, litter, graffiti) in a neighborhood can signal to residents that their immediate environment is unsafe.

The City of Seattle has had a long history of neglecting to increase infrastructure and resources in Highland Park and the surrounding neighborhoods in the Delridge area, from poor performing schools to ever increasing traffic, lack of sidewalks, a food desert, and poor bus service. These issues have been raised for years, some for over 70 years, with little progress.

“The impact of trauma extends beyond the individuals who directly witness or experience violence. Vicarious trauma impacts, for example, service providers, first responders and residents in high-violence communities. The result is both high levels of trauma across the population and a breakdown of social networks, social relationships and positive social norms across the community—all of which could otherwise be protective against violence”

Neighborhoods that are disproportionately exposed to psychosocial hazards such as crime and deterioration are often also without the resources necessary for coping with this chronic stress, such as social support.

There is a need for acknowledgement and understanding that City officials are requesting a community take on the additional burden of an encampment and that some of these communities are also simultaneously experiencing community trauma from persistent stress from crime, violence, deteriorating public spaces, under resourced infrastructure, concentrated poverty, and lack of opportunities. These communities will then need additional resources and support from the City to address current issues and to start to heal from community trauma.

“Healing from this trauma requires that the roads, buildings, parks, transportation and public services be improved and maintained so they encourage positive social interaction and relationships, as well as healthy behaviors and activities”

Chronic environmental stress points on Highland Park residents

Highland Park is a mixed race/mixed income community that has faced historic redlining, has a lower median income as compared to Seattle overall (22% lower than Seattle overall), with 81% of students at Highland Park Elementary on Free or Reduced lunch (May 2016), higher percentage of single parent families (13% as compared to 8% in Seattle overall), and higher percentage of those who speak little to no English (10% vs. 5% for Seattle over all) and 28% of our neighbors are immigrants as compared to 18% for Seattle over all.

We still feel the effects of that redlining today, with street infrastructure improvements being requested and not addressed; under-performing schools; gang violence; vacant homes and business; cuts to transit; little to no community based services; and located within a food desert to name some of structural conditions neighbors are living under.

In 2007/2008, Highland Park and Myers Way were both identified as potential sites for a jail, which the neighborhood was not in favor of and organized against. Later in 2008, the first Nickelsville encampment started in Highland Park at the Glass Yard site. It was eventually moved until it returned in 2011.

The 2011, Nickelsville site grew too large and became unmanageable and with that a long documented history of the City either being unable or unwilling to address the safety concerns of Nickelsville. From not being able to evict the problem campers from Nickelsville, to those who were evicted moving into the Greenbelt across the street, to increase in petty crime in the neighborhood. Some neighbors expressed feeling trapped in an unsafe situation and ignored by City officials during the time Nickelsville was in Highland Park.

For example: From Seattle Times

“Safety concerns  – Police say they respond to every 911 call and make arrests if there’s evidence of a crime. McGinn ordered stepped-up patrols in the neighborhood after residents wrote Police Chief John Diaz on March 19 [2013] to complain about enforcement.

But Nickelsville residents say they’ve been told by responding officers that the police can’t enforce camp rules and evict problem residents because the entire encampment is on city property illegally.

At a meeting with neighbors last week, Southwest Precinct Commander Capt. Joe Kessler said of Nickelsville, “Whatever rules are in place are not legal rules,” according to a report in the West Seattle Blog.”

It took the threat of lawsuit for the City to finally step in and make changes to how the City deals with encampments. After “…a $1.65 million claim against the city by a neighboring business owner who said the encampment hurt his property value, the city decided to evict the campers who have illegally squatted at the site for two years.”

This is where some of fears and concerns are coming from going into this process of sanctioning an encampment in this neighborhood again. This will be the 3rd encampment in this neighborhood, not including the various encampments throughout the Duwamish Greenbelt.

These are also some of the same safety concerns HPAC has heard from neighbors about this encampment to be sanctioned on Myers Way.

HPAC wants to work with the City to make sure that Camp Second Chance is advocated for and welcomed. We do have concerns that the self run camp, which is doing a great job, will be pushed beyond its own capacity to manage when they are asked to increase its size beyond the tight knit group that is there.

Lastly, this site is surrounded by three communities of unincorporated King County, which have even less resources, the complications of jurisdiction lines between Seattle Police and King County Sheriff’s office, and people who have no formal voice in this process because of living on those border lines. HPAC is concerned they will not going given any additional resources or even be able to advocate for more police in their neighborhoods, because they are not part of Seattle.

We look forward to continuing to dialog and work with the surrounding committee groups along with the City of Seattle to address the issues of homelessness during this crisis.

It is also our hope that the City of Seattle will provide HPAC and the surrounding neighborhoods with a plan based off our suggested protocols within a reasonable time frame, preferably before mid January 2017. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I look forward to your response.


Sincerely,

Gunner Scott, Chair
HPAC
Hpacchair@gmail.com

Citations:
Pinderhughes H, Davis R, Williams M. (2015). Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience: A Framework for Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma. Prevention Institute, Oakland CA. https://www.preventioninstitute.org/sites/default/files/publications/Adverse%20Community%20Experiences%20and%20Resilience.pdf
Karb, R. A., Elliott, M. R., Dowd, J. B., & Morenoff, J. D. (2012). Neighborhood-level stressors, social support, and diurnal patterns of cortisol: the Chicago Community Adult Health Study. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 75(6), 1038–1047. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.031
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