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Seattle’s homeless ordinance surrounds Camp Second Chance

A homeless camp made headlines when its organizer broke the lock off of a city fence and set it up on vacant city-owned land. The City of Seattle initially attempted to remove Camp Second Chance, but so far, the campers have been allowed to stay.

“Camp Second Chance is a well-organized, self-managed, clean and sober encampment where many residents have jobs,” Seattle Council Member Kshama Sawant said during a Sept. 6 council meeting. “Trash is collected and organized … They even have extra empty tents set up in case someone new shows up with nowhere to sleep.”

Camp Second Chance breaks onto city land

Sawant said that if it wasn’t for media attention around the camp, it would have been swept long ago. She recently visited Camp Second Chance, which is currently home to about 25 people. She said that neighbors even stopped by during her visit to drop off donations. She points to the camp to make the case for stopping the sweeps in Seattle — the action of ousting homeless individuals from unauthorized encampments.

That practice may soon be prohibited in town. The ACLU, Columbia Legal Services and other homeless advocates drafted an ordinance that the city council has accepted. It is now considering it in council committees.

“I bring this up as an example of a model encampment, that was delivered a three-day notice to leave and be swept by a city, as an illustration of the complete ineffectiveness and inhumanity of sweeps,” Sawant said.

“Their experience shows how important it is for city government to pass legislation to provide some human rights to homeless people in Seattle,” she said. “And mind you, these rights should have already been guaranteed by law.”

Camp Second Chance

Sawant favors the legislation drafted by outside parties and now under council consideration. She argues that the city is spending millions of dollars on actions that do not solve the local homeless crisis — such as finding housing for those experiencing homelessness. Rather, the city is wasting energy evicting people from encampments, moving them around from street corner to street corner. If people had a steady place to stay, Sawant says, they can concentrate on getting off the streets.

“We need to sweep trash, not people,” Sawant said. “Enough talk, let’s just do something to end homelessness and to provide affordable housing to everybody.”

Though Camp Second Chance has become a poster child for Sawant’s effort to halt homeless sweeps, critics argue the camp has attracted more than just supportive neighbors and council publicity.

David Preston posted a video on his blog displaying the area along Myers Way, which is lined with RVs, cars, trash and other signs of roadside campers. He alleges the area smells like trash and urine. The blogger argues that homeless encampments and tent cities such as Camp Second Chance attract other homeless activity.

Preston argues:

Once a camp is established, it’s not unusual for there to be more homeless people living around the camp than there are living in it, as we see with Camp Second Chance. And unlike the folks in the camp, the ones living around it are not subject to whatever rules and structure the camp has. When the camp moves along or is evicted, these hangers-on sometimes linger in the area for years, camping out by themselves in secluded greenbelts, panhandling at local shops.

But that’s not the entire story, according to Polly Trout, an organizer of Camp Second Chance. She was the one who initially broke the lock to gain access to the vacant city land. She previously said that if the city does sweep the camp, she’ll just break another lock and set up a new site.

That’s currently not the case, however.

“The camp is still on Myers Way,” Trout said. “The city promised they would give us 72 hours if/when they sweep, but they haven’t yet. I doubt they will while the ordinance is in play.”

Trout argues that Camp Second Chance is not what brought homelessness to Myers Way. In fact, she alleges the encampment is having a positive effect.

“The campers were all there before Second Chance moved there,” Trout said. “There were already hundreds of people in the greenbelt, both in car and RV camping, and tent camping in the woods.”

“The whole area has a lot of need, but Second Chance has certainly not made things worse, and I think it has made it better,” she said. “They have been providing resource referral to homeless folk in the neighborhood, and people who are sober can spend a night or two as a guest in the camp to see if it is a good fit. They let women and kids and sober guys use the Porta Potty, discourage illegal dumping, and call the cops if needed.”

Trout further said that REACH is working with residents of the encampment. A couple and their baby have since received housing, and six others also have moved into housing. That brought the camp’s numbers down temporarily, but Trout says there are about 25 at Camp Second Chance as more folks have moved in.

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