The city-run homeless encampment next to Aberdeen City Hall will stay in place at least through July 31, two years after it was constructed as a “temporary alternative shelter location.”
The City Council this week approved the extension and additional funding of $61,500 to continue the camp. The decision was made based on Gov. Jay Inslee’s extension of his evictions moratorium proclamation, originally set to expire March 30, but now in effect through the end of June. Lack of other available shelter beds was also a factor.
The camp, also known as TASL for its “temporary alternative shelter location” designation, opened in July 2019, after the city purchased the River Street property along railroad tracks that for years was the location of a homeless camp that held up to 150 people. Shortly after the city cleared that camp, a federal court ruled that persons cannot be criminally charged for camping on public property if there is no available shelter space.
Just over a year ago, in March, before the pandemic became a factor in everyday life and restrictions were issued, the City Council voted to close the camp by May 15. When the pandemic hit and the governor imposed his no-evictions proclamation, the state Attorney General’s Office told the city that it applies to the camp. Any attempts to close the camp while the proclamation was in place would set the city up for lawsuits, the city was told.
“Each time the proclamation got extended, so did the TASL. And each time that happened, we have tried to get more information and some form of help to address the issue,” said Mayor Pete Schave. “As people have moved out, the TASL shrinks. Right now there are fewer than 25 people in the TASL, and the proclamation is set to expire on June 30. Aberdeen will continue to follow the sate law governing the TASL and our treatment of the unhoused population.”
Since July 2019, the city has spent more than $370,000 operating the camp, according to numbers provided to the City Council this week. Most of the money has come from the city’s own budget, but some federal CARES Act money for pandemic relief has also gone to its operation.
The majority of the expense, just under $300,000, has gone toward security for the site. It cost just under $62,000 to create the camp, including $43,500 for tents, sleeping bags, tarps, and bike racks. More than $8,000 has been spent on trash collection. It costs about $20,500 a month to operate the camp.
At this week’s council meeting, Public Works Director Rick Sangder said his department had been directed to take over the upkeep of the camp.
“We have been out there three different times for cleanups, and removed six dump truck loads of material,” said Sangder. “We’ve been working with the campers and they have been very receptive to us getting it cleaned up and getting (trash) removed, and just following the rules they agreed to. We’re very thankful and have a lot of hope to make this a better situation.”