Elected officials, advocacy organizations and even editorial boards are questioning the recent decision by Seattle City Hall to sweep Camp Second Chance, an unauthorized sober encampment set up on a piece of city-owned property.
The camp received notice of the cleanup on July 28, indicating residents had until the following Tuesday, Aug. 2, to vacate the property. Officials say that Second Chance is adjacent to federally protected wetlands and has to move. Campers have resisted leaving, saying that they have improved the site and that they have nowhere else to go.
The deadline has now been stretched a week to mid-August, although there is no firm date, said Polly Trout, the camp’s advisor and executive director of Buddhist social services nonprofit Patacara.
The decision to sweep the camp didn’t come as a shock to the residents, who knew they had set up their miniature village on property controlled by City Hall. However, they and other groups in Seattle have questioned why City Hall would go after the small encampment with its Honey Buckets, trash pick-ups and sober living requirements all set back from the street rather than other camps near roads and with reports of violence.
King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles sent a statement of support for the camp, urging Mayor Ed Murray to give them the three months at the site that they’re asking for and assistance in finding a new one.
“I believe we must find the resources to help groups like this in these times and be creative,” Kohl-Welles said.
The Seattle Weekly editorial board also entered the fray.
“Why is Murray — an avowed social-justice Catholic given to quoting Dorothy Day — chasing homeless people out of their tents and shacks?” the group asked.
The city conducts cleanups based on health and safety issues. Julie Moore, spokesperson for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, said the city also prioritizes observed criminal behavior and obstructing a facility.
In the case of Camp Second Chance, City Hall is responsible for the preservation of the adjacent wetlands.
“If the city does not control access through the fence, it cannot preserve the wetlands,” Moore wrote.
The plan to sweep Second Chance came at the same time that the mayor and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw announced task force to look at public policy on tent encampment cleanups. Homelessness advocates say the city uses existing policies to chase people around the city without giving them a different option.
In the meantime, sweeps will continue using policies laid out in the Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules, or MDARs.
David Yu and his partner Trina were original members of Camp Second Chance when the group split off from Tent City 3 encampment several months ago. In so doing, he and the other campers lost the protections of being involved in TC3, a well-established entity run on democratic principles that moves to a new location every three months to lessen its impact on the neighborhoods it visits.
Second Chance preserved much of the structure of TC3, including that three-month stay limit, which is why the group left a stable situation at Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila to land on Myers Way. The first area that they camped turned out to be privately owned, forcing the camp to move to the adjacent city-owned site.
Yu, who has a certain surfer calm about him, is clearly frustrated by the reception the camp has gotten from officials. Extra eyes on the neighborhood keep people from dumping trash and old furniture on the property, Yu said, indicating that the camp’s presence had resulted in a cleaner site.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Yu said.
Gregory Williams, another resident, became homeless when he and his wife, Christina Williams, could no longer afford their basement apartment. Williams doesn’t want to live in a tent, but his criminal record makes it hard to find a place to stay. He is considering moving to Alaska to work on an oil rig to get out of the situation, with which he is very fed up.
“I’m tired of proving to people that I’m human,” Gregory said.