Aberdeen city council unanimously extends homeless notice to vacate to 30 days

The Aberdeen City Council agreed unanimously to give the homeless populations who reside on River and State streets 30 days to vacate.

The clock for the eviction started Wednesday night after the council voted 8-0 for the extension. The homeless people would have had to vacate as of Tuesday at 10 a.m., but that was seen as unfair since if a housed person is evicted, they get 30 days.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision has made it so cities can cite homeless people for camping in public spaces.

“In a 6-3 ruling, the court said that municipalities may enforce ordinances against sleeping in public spaces,” according to The Columbian. “The case, Grants Pass v. Johnson, overturned a California appeals court decision that found such laws amount to cruel and unusual punishment when shelter space is lacking.”

Aberdeen City Administrator Ruth Clemens gave a brief summary of what the case allows towns such as Aberdeen to do now.

“This court case allows us the ability to enforce our laws,” Clemens said.

Liz Ellis, an Aberdeen City Councilor, expressed concern over the initial notice that would have started the camp cleanup Tuesday morning.

“When landlords serve notice on the tenant, I think it’s at least 30 days,” Ellis said. “I’m hearing from the people who spoke today that they’re desperate for an alternative. It sounds like there’s a lot of communication and planning going on, networking amongst our service providers. And I agree, it would be very helpful to slow down just a bit so there could be some creativity that comes to bear. There may be ways that the city can actually help create alternative camping spots for people and five days, we can’t do that.”

“What I would like to see is that the city gives people a good 30 days before we start actually clearing away camps, permanently,” Ellis said. “I know that our business people have suffered incredibly. They’re desperate for solutions and I think what we’re doing is we’re providing some concrete solutions and a timeline that will actually give them some relief.

Kacey Ann Morrison, city council president, lauded the council’s ability to work together on the issue.

“I just want to recognize that this is a modern miracle,” Morrison said.

Clemens called the unanimous approval “the biggest win” that came from the special meeting.

“This was truly the first item related to homelessness that the council agreed on, unanimously,” Clemens said. “That’s wonderful that the council is headed in the right direction. Debi Pieraccini has done a great job. She ran her (mayoral) campaign on homelessness and finding answers. She’s worked very hard to champion that. It’s nice to see everybody coming together. This is a big step for our council.”

Pieraccini, an Aberdeen city councilor who leads the city’s homelessness response committee, said she was “so excited.”

“This is the first time that the whole council has agreed on one homeless issue, the 30 days,” Pieraccini said. “I’m very excited, I feel (it’s) promising. I feel like they’re willing now to work on a camp issue and I think everyone realizes that you have to have one location where all of the nonprofits can organize, so that the homeless people have one location to go to instead of going over to this organization and then trying to make a meeting for next week (elsewhere). This way they’d have it all in one spot.”

Clemens said what the council’s vote means for the city and what it can do about the homeless folks who do not find shelter.

“If they don’t find shelter we now have a set of laws,” Clemens said. “Our officers will be educating them on what they can and cannot do, according to our code. The first encounter will be education. Our officers will make the homeless aware of the law and the resources available to them.”

The second encounter if the people aren’t responsive is a verbal warning.

The third encounter leads to a fine. The fourth encounter would lead to a custodial arrest.

Clemens said her hope is the homeless people use the community resources available to them, including Coastal Community Action Program, The Moore Wright Group, Destination Hope and Recovery and Union Gospel Mission, among others. She wants the people currently at the camps to get the help they need.

While she noted it isn’t just about housing, there is a shortage of affordable housing throughout Aberdeen and the rest of Grays Harbor, she knows it’s a more complex issue than housing. Because of that, the city is trying to manage the issue.

“We have to deal with it with compassion,” Clemens said.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at matthew.wells@thedailyworld.com.