City of Aberdeen launches homelessness survey

The city of Aberdeen launched a survey on Feb. 15 intended for businesses in Aberdeen, in order to get the scoop on what they have to deal with in regards to problems with the homeless community.

“Addressing the homelessness issue in Aberdeen is one of the mayor and city council’s greatest priorities,” according to the survey. “The mayor appointed a Homelessness Response Committee that is tasked with developing and implementing a plan to enhance the community’s current response to the immediate homelessness crisis as well as long-term prevention strategies.”

Ruth Clemens, Aberdeen’s city administrator, reported at Wednesday night’s city council meeting the need to do something about the hazards the homeless population creates, specifically the homeless encampments on city-owned property. The main encampment is close to downtown, near the area of River and State streets, where tents line the land close to the Chehalis River Bridge. The hazards range from the disgusting — human waste — to the dangerous — fires set within the encampment.

While Clemens is aware there was engagement with the public before about the issues, she wants the data. The survey is supposed to help start the process of finding out what’s wrong throughout the city, mainly the challenges local businesses face.

“The survey came about from the Homelessness Response Committee, researching what other cities all across the country are doing to address homelessness,” Clemens said Thursday. “We looked at a ton of different strategies. We really focused on the cities we felt were successful.”

Clemens was light in her use of “successful,” since success “looks very different for people in each city.” The cities used “may still be experiencing homelessness, but are still experiencing economic growth and economic development growth, still growing and still making progress as a city as a whole,” Clemens said.

Clemens explained one of the common denominators with each city used in Aberdeen’s research. It’s where the business owners come in.

“Each city had a community-informed strategy,” Clemens said. “So the city didn’t act in a silo and implement a plan that they created themselves. They reached out to the various stakeholders in the city. Their greatest focus was the business community. That was where they all started.”

The city’s long-term strategy is to engage with the businesses, especially downtown. Then the strategy would expand to the east and west side of the city. And it’s not only businesses involved, it’s the downtown organizations.

“We wanted to learn what their experiences were,” said Clemens. As of late Thursday morning, 50 surveys had been filled out.

Here are a few of the questions from the 25-question survey:

• “In the last 12 months, have you seen an increase or decrease in the number of homeless persons in/around your business?”

• “Have you felt safe operating your business in Aberdeen?”

• “Has your business seen a loss of revenue due to homelessness?”

• “Have you considered moving your business from Aberdeen due to homelessness or any of the reasons listed above?”

• “Homelessness is both a local and a national crisis. What would you propose as a solution for our local community?”

• “In the past 12 months, has your business experienced any of these problems associated with homelessness?”

For the previous question, the choices are theft; destruction of property; needles or other hazardous waste near business site; lewd and indecent behavior; human waste at or near business site; harassment; trespassing, or sleeping at the business; and-or graffiti.

The survey is supposed to close at 5 p.m., on March 10. And then the city is hosting a business-stakeholder meeting at 6 p.m., on March 23. The meeting will take place inside the Rotary Log Pavilion, 1401 Sargent Blvd., in Aberdeen.

With those dates in mind, Clemens wants the ability to show the data.

“Show them, like what collectively businesses are saying and what they’re experiencing,” Clemens said. “If graffiti is an issue, then we know we have to start addressing graffiti. If safety is an issue then we will have to determine a path that way to solve the issue, to address that as well.”

Clemens also knows the costs and work incurred by the city to help clean up the downtown core.

“Our public works maintenance workers go down there weekly,” Clemens said.

“Part of their duties is to clean up the downtown corridor. They are to clean up the trash down there. We fill up anywhere between 1-2 dump trucks a week to take away garbage from that area. And we also provided them with a, oh I don’t know, a 2,000-gallon dumpster. We’ve provided them this large dumpster down there to encourage that population to put their trash in there and it still seems to fill up, and it overflows. It gets into that entire area.”

Clemens has at least two public works maintenance staffers assigned to the downtown core to keep it clean.

“It is a battle to address the trash issue, and the accumulation,” Clemens said. “And in the preliminary findings of the survey, the downtown businesses are experiencing that as well.”

Clemens said the city has invested a lot of money to help with the issue, including a monthly homelessness expense report to the city council.

“You will see in that report that we spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to address this homelessness issue, each month,” Clemens said.

In addition to meeting with the businesses on March 23, there will be meetings with the city’s different wards throughout April and May.

The hope now is to get real, solid data from the businesses — the eyes and ears for the city.

“Our downtown corridor businesses really get the brunt of it, … they see it first hand,” Clemens said. “They see all the activity going down there.”

Business owners, managers and employees should look to the city of Aberdeen’s homepage — — in order to find the survey. The survey is positioned to the left of the calendar on the city’s page.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at