Aberdeen to consider clearing Southside homeless camps

Weeks after clearing the city’s largest homeless encampment on the north side of the Chehalis River, the Aberdeen City Council will consider a recommendation they close the city-owned property adjacent to the Southside levee to all public access at the council’s Aug. 28 meeting.

In a recommendation to council from Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson, he says there are life safety, public safety and public welfare reasons why the city needs to clear the south side of the river of people living throughout the area between the flood levee and the Chehalis River. The recommendation asks the council to consider closing the site during the following council meeting Aug. 28. The issues Larson cites with public safety and welfare are the same as those regarding the former major homeless encampment on the north side of the river.

When the city finished evicting homeless people from the longstanding homeless camp on the north side of the river, some of the people moved to campsites on the opposite river bank, which is much more forested. Larson said many community members have complained recently about people accessing the city-owned and private waterfront properties, and that the Aberdeen Fire Department has been dispatched to fires on the southside riverbank recently but weren’t able to access most of the area with firetrucks due to the lack of a clear road.

“In the event of fire, there is a significant risk of it spreading quickly, and given the limited access represents significant life safety threat to both individuals in the area and to any public safety responders,” wrote Larson, who did not respond to requests for comment Monday regarding the proposed site closure.

Council member Frank Gordon said he agrees there are health safety issues with people camping in the southside levee area, but he said clearing people from it doesn’t solve the issue and that it will simply push them somewhere else.

“It’s just going to move them on, and they’re getting scattered around town,” Gordon said about Larson’s proposal. “They’re down by my place now, and it’s spread them out, but it hasn’t cured anything. We need to find something temporary for them before we can get something permanent.”

Gordon and other council members have said that larger agencies like the county and state, which have specific funding for addressing homelessness, need to be more involved.

Council Member Dee Anne Shaw said she supports the proposal to clear the southside camps. For Shaw, she said it’s important to assist homeless people who are trying to access services, but that the city also needs to take steps to manage people who choose to live and camp in these spaces.

“In my view, we need to manage people who aren’t trying to be helped so they don’t disrupt our community in other ways,” said Shaw. “They’re choosing to be unsheltered. It’s not safe, and we have to protect them from themselves and the community.”

The city opened a temporary shelter behind City Hall with 48 tents that are holding more than 60 people, and there’s a long waiting list of people interested in getting into the city-run site. But now with the tent shelter at full capacity, there are no signs the city will open additional shelter space anytime soon.

Larson was approved by the council to negotiate the acquisition of additional property to act as a long-term site homeless individuals could move to, but there are no signs of a new site in this week’s agenda. In a report from Aberdeen Public Safety signed by Community Development Director Lisa Scott, she recommends the council authorize Larson to use a proposed budget to seek additional funding through outside agencies to acquire a long-term shelter site for one year. The proposed budget includes one-time costs totaling $189,188, and monthly costs of $26,580.

Of the one-time costs, that includes $60,000 allocated for a site purchase, $37,400 for gravel and grading, $28,600 for privacy fencing, $40,000 for 100 tents, and smaller costs for things such as light poles, trash cans and sleeping bags.

In another recommendation from Public Safety signed by Scott, it’s recommended the city approve an additional expenditure of $45,000 to continue operating the City Hall shelter through the end of the 90-day temporary use permit for the facility that opened July 15.

These items will be discussed at the council meeting Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. on the third floor of Aberdeen City Hall.