Aberdeen deals with fallout from riverfront camp restrictions

Now that the City of Aberdeen has closed the metal gate leading to the large homeless encampment along the Chehalis River and begun policing who inhabits it, city officials and residents are noticing the effects on the rest of downtown as well as the homeless community itself.

So far 108 people living along the riverfront have received written authorization papers from the Aberdeen Police Department to temporarily live on the property, which the city now owns. These are people who gave their real names and dates of birth when police officers interviewed them during trips to the camp over the past couple weeks. They also are people who say they are receiving or seeking services to help them find improved living situations.

Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate said those who have been living on the property can still give their names for authorization if they haven’t already, but not if they want to move onto the property for the first time.

One effect appears to be that people who aren’t willing to give up their personal information to police are staying away from the camp. Instead, anecdotal accounts indicate that people are finding other areas of the city to sleep.

There’s a separate procedure for homeless assistance groups such as Coastal Community Action Program and Chaplains on the Harbor to get the city’s permission to enter the property to provide aid.

The applications for riverfront access — available from Beth Troseth, an office assistant at Aberdeen’s Public Works Department — asks for what days and times the organization would visit the camps, and what resources they would provide. It also outlines additional rules the city has for those on the property. City Engineer Kris Koski, who reviews the applications for riverfront access with a flowchart, said many have been approved, while some without a clear work plan have been denied.

The Rev. Sarah Monroe, from Chaplains on the Harbor in Westport, had regularly visited and assisted homeless people along the river before the gate closed. Now a little over a week after requesting permission from the city to have access to the homeless camps, Monroe said she still hadn’t heard back.

Recently, Monroe said she needed to help someone get from the riverfront to the hospital who was ill following a surgery. Because she didn’t have access, Monroe said the injured man had a friend cart him in a wheelbarrow half a mile from where he was staying to Monroe’s truck on the other side of the gate.

“That’s what happens when I can’t take people to the hospital,” Monroe said on Wednesday as she showed a picture of the man lying in the cart. “One of his friends happened to have a wheelbarrow, and had to pull him to my truck.”

In the future, Monroe said she hopes there’s a way to get people medical attention along the riverfront without requiring them to call for an ambulance.

During the City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting on Wednesday, Shumate noted that there has been a recent rise in the number of stolen vehicles and stolen or damaged property in city businesses. Shumate said he’s confident this rise in crime is somewhat related to the fact that the city is restricting the number of people on the riverfront property.

“More businesses are sharing that there’s more foot traffic, more bicycle traffic, and I’m confident that is because we’re starting to restrict that area out there,” said Shumate.

During the public comment period in Wednesday’s Aberdeen City Council meeting, an employee of the Sierra Pacific Lumber Mill said he has also noticed an increased number of stolen vehicles recently.

There have also been additional motor vehicles parked along the streets of Aberdeen, and Shumate said that too “has a very good possibility” of being connected to the changes on the riverfront.

Karen Rowe, a city council member who owns a wine store downtown, said that while “a little could be from it,” (the city’s regulation of the property) she said the increase in crime is not related to the riverfront restrictions, and that “in the last six months, there has been a huge uptick.”

Those looking for applications to get authorization to live or give aid to those on the riverfront can obtain the papers from Troseth on the second floor of Aberdeen City Hall.