Three months ago, PDA Co-Executive Director Lisa Daugaard and Nichole Alexander, the PDA director of Outreach & Special Initiatives, stood alongside other members of government and nonprofit agencies to field questions from a group of scared – and sometimes angry – residents of Arrowhead Gardens Senior Living Apartments.
All summer, the residents had dealt with the fallout from a homeless encampment across the street – bullet casings, debris, rodents, disturbances. The group of officials in front of them were in charge of the response, part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Right of Way initiative, meant to clear encampments off properties owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Over the course of more than an hour, residents recounted their experiences and asked pointed questions. But the thrust was simple.
What are you going to do about it?
On Oct. 16, the group reassembled with a much different tone. And there were cookies.
The camp had been declared cleared with much fanfare and a visit from Inslee at the end of August. Alexander reported that 26 people living there had been integrated into PDA programs. On Oct. 13, workers removed the last vehicle that remained inside.
“Agreements were made, and agreements were kept,” said Diane Radischat, a resident and fierce advocate for the community.
The story of the Myers Way encampment captured media attention in 2023. It wasn’t the first time that people experiencing homelessness had set up a home in the otherwise-undeveloped state right of way, but the impact had risen to a different level. Television cameras and independent videographers visited, capturing images of graffiti and trash. A woman created a swimming pool to guard against the summer heat – it made national news.
Behind the scenes, however, the work to clear the encampment had already begun.
Dedicated outreach workers combed the area bringing muffins as icebreakers, building relationships with the people living there. As they established rapport and found out what people wanted and needed to leave, the team at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority began seeking shelter and housing options that worked for them. WSDOT coordinated a cleanup of debris on the site, and when people moved out, it was shut off with a fence.
“It was truly an epic, multi-partner lift,” Daugaard said on Oct. 16.
PDA’s role involved working with outreach partner REACH to connect with encampment residents and find solutions for them that went beyond temporary shelter and to the root of what kept them outside. To do so, they went out nearly every day, searching for people from the ravine all the way to the 509 freeway.
“It was the largest terrain we have ever covered,” Alexander said.
And in that secluded area were more than two dozen people, surviving outside as no one should have to.
Megan Kineko, the ROW coordinator with REACH, said her team connected 10 people with a housing resource. She told of a father and his two-year-old child who needed help to get back to family in Montana and a couple who are waiting for the birth of their child in a tiny house village instead of the charred remains of their tent, which caught fire.
The woman got a job and is enrolled in school. Her partner is working toward his citizenship. Both are currently sober.
Working with people to get inside and stay inside is its own challenge, Alexander said.
“This is a scary transition for a lot of folks,” she said, describing one gentleman who was among the first to come into a PDA interim lodging facility. “He’s doing great with case management.”
Now, the work remains to prevent people from repopulating the site. A WSDOT official called it the “monitoring phase” made more complicated by the fact that it was impossible to fence off the entire site.
Radischat urged residents to report any lights seen in the area to assist with the effort.
Before the meeting ended, less than an hour before it began, Daugaard once again addressed the assemblage.
“You all have been a model of effective voices for your community,” she said. “Thank you for your leadership.”