The Aberdeen City Council voted on Wednesday to move the city’s temporary homeless camp from its current location behind city hall to the city’s Michigan Street property pending outside funding that has been requested from the state. The move will require a temporary use permit to be approved by the council at a later meeting.
The council voted unanimously to adopt a report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Homeless Response to extend the permit for the temporary camp from March 15 to May 15. The report recommends that, should non-city funding not be made available, all camp operations cease and the site be closed down on May 15. On a second vote, this one 8-2, the council approved moving the camp to a location at the foot of Michigan Street near the railroad tracks.
Mayor Pete Schave asked the council to vote against the move, but only councilmen Frank Gordon and John Maki voted against moving the camp.
The extension until May 15 was required since the current permit was set to expire on March 15. The extension also allows the city to give notice of a possible camp closure or move to the camp’s security staff.
There were some public comments in favor of leaving the camp where it is, but in order for the camp to be considered temporary, it must to be moved before a one-year limit expires on July 15. A potential permit for a camp at the 421 Michigan Street property would also be considered temporary and could only be authorized for up to one year.
Last fall, just before the elections, the council rejected then Mayor Erik Larson’s plan to relocate the camp to the Michigan Street land the city bought for that purpose. Several council members said the actions felt rushed. Mayor Schave, who was a council member then, was one of those who opposed the move.
“We came back to (the Michigan Street location) because we ran out of options. … We’re going to make people upset no matter where we put it. We can’t keep it (behind City Hall) because we have a limit of one year and that year has almost run out,” said Councilwoman Tawni Andrews.
Before the vote on the move to Michigan Street, Councilwoman Kati Kachman addressed Mayor Schave, who has said that he’s not in favor of a homeless camp while not taking any action to try to close it since taking office on Jan. 1.
“Mayor Schave, if you are against this, then I would hope that you would either shut it down or support what the council decides tonight,” she said.
Many of Schave’s supporters in the crowd of about 30 people at the meeting applauded when he reiterated his opposition to the homeless camp.
“I think I’ve made it clear where I stand on this. I don’t support it. We’ve tried to work through the issues here to develop this. … I just have never been able to understand how a ruling judge can decide that the City of Aberdeen or all of the cities on the west coast need to become a new social program,” Schave said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Larson, the former mayor, spoke to the issue that dominated his term in office.
“The camp doesn’t exist without the mayor allowing it to exist,” Larson said, addressing Schave. “The mayor has executive authority that the legislative branch of the city government can’t overstep. I don’t know if you understand that or not.”
“It (the camp) literally exists because you allow it to exist, and it also exists because the council continues to allow it to be funded,” Larson added.
Residents and business owners spoke out against moving the camp to Michigan Street, while several council members explained their votes by commenting on the lack of desirable options.
“We are voting for, ‘do we want a camp or do we want to put people on the street,’” Kachman said, adding that neither option was good.
“My biggest issue is that it’s just Aberdeen, Aberdeen by itself,” said Councilman Frank Gordon who voted against the Michigan Street move because the city is shouldering the whole financial burden.
Gordon said he would support a permanent shelter that would meet the county and state’s guidelines, but not another temporary camp.
Councilwoman Karen Rowe agreed with Gordon that the city shouldn’t be solely responsible for funding camp operations, but said she was voting for the camp as a temporary solution.
“I believe it’s the county that should come up with the permanent housing solution, not the City of Aberdeen. I believe that this is a temporary solution of sorts until the county can do what the county is supposed to do,” she said.
“I would much rather know that we have a place that is under our control, so we can hire an administrator. … The reason we never hired an administrator is because the City Council last year didn’t approve this move,” Councilman Nathan Kennedy said, referring to the council’s vote against moving the camp to Michigan Street last October.
Councilman Tim Alstrom said that the city, county and the nation are facing an affordable housing crisis.
“The current waiting list for subsidized housing through the Housing Authority is 39 months,” he said.
“There’s no quick and easy answer here,” he added.
After the vote, Larson said he thinks the mayor doesn’t understand why the issue is moving forward after the November election that saw Schave defeat him in a race that featured the homeless issue prominently.
“So the council voted tonight to say when the time comes, if the funding is there, we’ll appropriate our portion of the funding and we’ll apply for the temporary use permit to move to Michigan. But it doesn’t actually move to Michigan unless the mayor directs his staff to do it,” Larson said.
“I don’t necessarily want to see it stopped, but I don’t get it,” he said.