Just off state Route 509 in a quiet part of south Seattle sits a homeless camp.
From the outside, the chain-link fence surrounding the camp looks like it’s protecting nothing more than a couple of small buildings. Inside the fence is a whole lot more.
Camp Second Chance is a drug-and-alcohol-free camp dedicated to helping those in need get back on their feet. Homeless people seeking immediate help can come to the camp at any time, as long as they adhere to the strict policy and no drugs or alcohol.
Around-the-clock security ensures Camp Second Chance is able to help people when they arrive as well as provide protection to the people living there. Residents take turns doing four-hour security shifts, twice a week.
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Eric Davis is the camp’s resident manager. Davis helped to found Camp Second Chance after he leaving a transitional camp with others in 2016. Camp Second Chance’s efficiency and success have attracted attention from other places around the state looking for ways to help their own homeless populations.
Now, a Senate bill introduced by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, would make it easier for transitional camps such as Camp Second Chance to get up and running faster.
State Environmental Policy Act
SB 5946 would exempt transitional camps from having to comply with the State Environmental Policy Act requirements.
According to the Department of Ecology, the SEPA review process identifies and analyzes environmental impacts associated with government decisions. Probable environmental impacts are identified and evaluated through the review process. If projects are determined to have a significant environmental impact, they must go through another analysis using an environmental impact statement.
This process can be problematic for shelters and transitional camps looking to help people in a timely manner.
Christina Postlewait, state lobbyist for the City of Seattle, said SEPA reviews can sometimes delay the building of encampments for up to six months. Postlewait said Nguyen’s proposed legislation is important because it would help local jurisdictions permit shelters and encampments as a short-term or transitional place while the homeless wait for more permanent housing.
Encampments still would need to meet city building, land use and zoning codes, Postlewait said.
Additionally, such camps would need to meet certain requirements to qualify for the exemption. The facilities must be used to temporarily house homeless people, have no more than 200 beds and be used on the same site for no more than three years. Tents, modular structures, and vehicles may be used for shelter in transitional encampments.
Nguyen said the bill, if passed, would help keep people safe by providing shelter from the elements right away.
“In addition to the safety, they also provide stable, quality communities,” said Nguyen. “It has been a privilege to have such great neighbors in our community, and it’s been inspiring to see folks who cut through politics and really focus on making sure they’re creating a safe place to take care of one another.”
Camp Second Chance
Camp Second Chance can help up to 50 people at any given time by providing them with emergency shelter, food, clothing and bedding. Current residents are between the ages of 25 and 70.
Davis said the camp started with tents but has evolved over the last couple of years to include 32 hand-built, 12-by-10-foot tiny homes.
Residents are expected to help build their own shelters with the materials the camp provides, and they are expected to help participate in the building of other shelters.
“Just because you have a house doesn’t mean you stop building,” said Davis. “We don’t stop until everyone has one.”
Materials are provided by Sound Foundations Northwest, and residents can build tiny homes under the protection of a donated giant tent. Volunteers also assist with building projects on Saturdays.
Path out of homeless cycle
Davis said allowing people to participate in the building of their own homes gives them a sense of dignity in addition to providing safety and a place to lock their stuff in while they go to work. Most residents of Camp Second Chance have jobs, he said.
“We want people to know that there are people who simply are not just homeless, they’re misplaced,” said Davis. “This is real poverty happening in Seattle, and people need to know it’s not just homelessness. They need to build affordable housing.”
Davis said places like Camp Second Chance are important because they allow residents the opportunity to get stabilized. People who are forced to constantly move around don’t get that chance, which prevents them from moving forward in their lives, he said.
During a committee hearing on the bill, some who testified in support were either current or former residents of Camp Second Chance. Because of the camp, they said, they have been able to keep stable jobs or find permanent housing.
Davis said passing the legislation would allow other cities to open more camps similar to his.
SB 5946 had no opposition in committee and is currently on the floor calendar awaiting Senate passage.