Despite closure, Aberdeen City Hall homeless tent camp grows

Despite its closure in July, the homeless tent camp adjacent to Aberdeen City Hall, known as TASL, is seeing more of the city’s homeless set up camp there and the city doesn’t have the legal authority to remove them.

“To be totally honest, we are struggling,” Aberdeen Public Works Director Rick Sangder told the City Council on Wednesday. “The police have no ability to enforce, code enforcement apparently has no ability to enforce, and Public Works definitely has no ability to enforce” the evictions from the camp.

The camp’s fencing came down July 17 and crews began clearing out remaining belongings. The city went ahead with plans to close the camp after the state’s evictions moratorium ended at the end of June, and Coastal Community Action Program (CCAP) staff had been on hand the weeks prior to help the 20-plus residents secure other housing locations.

Some lingered after the closure, and now more have moved back into what was once a city employee parking lot.

“We were down to six campers. We’re back up to I believe 10 or 11, in a very small space,” said Sangder. “There’s no resources out there. It’s a bad situation. I’m not sure what the answers are.”

Resources, like trash containers, fresh water and portable toilets, were removed when the camp was closed.

Sangder said he’s reached out to third-party legal counsel for some advice on rules moving forward, but as of Wednesday had not heard back.

“I’ve talked to the mayor about it and he’s looking to the third party counsel as well to try and help us figure out how to move forward and get that shut down,” said Sangder.

Current city ordinances still do not allow for evictions from camps on city owned properties unless another overnight camping location is available.

“We’ve asked our council to come up with something based on our ordinances that we’ve had in the past or that we changed not too far in the past to provide spaces for campers downtown,” said Mayor Pete Schave. “What we also changed at that time was to take any criminal part out of the ability of the police department (to enforce the evictions).”

As Schave put it, “If somebody is trespassing like out in our parking lot the police can go out there and write them a $54 ticket day after day after day after day, and there’s no teeth in it. So if we change that ordinance partially back, it will give the police department better control over it.”

Council member Tawni Andrews reminded the council and Schave that “you cannot make homelessness illegal, so I’m interested to see how that’s going to play out because that’s very, very strong language from the Ninth Circuit District Court that you cannot criminalize homelessness.”

The city’s current ordinances were drafted to comply with that court decision that required the homeless be allowed to camp on public property if no other shelter was available.

Council member Tiesa Meskis noted how the city has an ad hoc committee on homelessness that has not met in some time.

“The homeless situation is not going away until every single person in our city is housed,” said Meskis. “So I would really like to encourage that we get that committee back in session, and have some discussions on how we can actively work with our homeless people and come up with solutions that can work for them, work for the city, and just get the situation under control. Because right now it is not under control.”

Meskis brought up the years-long talks with the county about their potential to provide some homeless shelter relief through federal grants. The Board of County Commissioners has not moved on more than $1 million in funds for a low-barrier shelter.

“We put a lot of faith in the county actually doing something and we have nothing,” said Meskis. “That doesn’t mean we stop, that means we continue.”

As far as Andrews’ concerns about an ordinance that would criminalize homelessness, Meskis said, “If any ordinance comes before this council that would make being homeless illegal I can tell you right now I’m not going to vote for it. I would like to sit down with everybody, and bring members of the homeless community together to find some solutions.”

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, Council President Dee Anne Shaw made a motion that was approved to schedule a meeting of the ad hoc committee to begin to address the current issues. A date and time was not set.