City again strikes out with county over homeless funds

The Grays Harbor County Board of Health (which is made up of the three county commissioners) on Monday determined the temporary homeless tent camp behind Aberdeen City Hall does not qualify as a necessary public health response to COVID-19 and therefore does not qualify for any of the $390,000 the state Department of Commerce provided the county for housing relief during the pandemic.

The county has rejected similar funding requests from the city before, asking for a share of what the state gives the county to deal with housing issues. This one was based on the pot of money the state has given the county specifically to deal with housing issues exacerbated by the pandemic. The city sent a letter to the board dated May 25, signed by Aberdeen City Council President Dee Anne Shaw, requesting the determination be made that the camp addressed “an immediate threat to public health and safety related to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic by maintaining shelter for a population of non-domiciled individuals. This request is to support the city in identifying alternative financial resources to meet its legal commitment in the midst of immense economic uncertainty.”

The Board of Health determined Monday that because the City of Aberdeen was provided guidance from the county incident management team regarding social distancing and other precautions, and there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 coming from the residents of the camp, that shows that the guidance was successful and maintaining the camp was not addressing an immediate public health threat.

In early April, the Aberdeen City Council voted to close the camp May 15, due to lack of funding from any partner organization. The city was informed by the state Attorney General’s Office a few weeks later that clearing the camp would violate the governor’s moratorium on evictions during the pandemic and the city would be in violation of that order if the camp was cleared prior to the original moratorium end date of June 4.

Aberdeen had approached the Board of Health in late March, stating it was the city’s contention the camp was eligible for a share of the $390,000 the state Department of Commerce had provided the county for COVID-19-related emergency housing. The county legal team has strongly stated that funding would not be permissible under the state’s guidelines for the funds..

There was little discussion before the Board of Health, made up of commissioners Vickie Raines, Randy Ross and Wes Cormier, rejected the city’s request of determination. Ross said he is hopeful more can be done in regard to the homeless camp, with the possibility of Department of Commerce grants becoming available that could help defray the city’s cost of operations.

The city said it costs about $35,000 a month to operate the camp, money that has been solely on the city to provide. The camp hosts around 35 individuals currently and is built to hold about 70. The temporary use permit for the camp expires July 15.