Erik Larson rejoins homeless debate

Several citizens took advantage of City Council’s public comment session to address the homeless issue last week, including former mayor Erik Larson who made his first appearance at a council meeting since leaving office on Dec. 31.

Larson urged the council to “Keep up the good fight” and not to backtrack on the issue of homelessness.

“I know I struggled with it. I know the council and the mayor are going to continue to struggle with the issue of homelessness,” Larson said of the ongoing problem that may have cost him a second term.

“There was always a tendency when I was in the position to just throw my arms up and say, I’m tired of fighting the good fight. If this is what they want, let’s give it to them. If they want the needle exchange gone, let’s find a way to kick it out of town. … They want us to kick all these non-profits out of town through ordinances and zoning or whatever, let’s go ahead and do it,” he said

“It’s totally possible and it’s definitely something a lot of people are fighting for. But I think it’s based off of information that really doesn’t pan out,” he added.

Larson clarified his position by saying it would be great to do what people want “just to show them exactly what happens when you do cut all those services, when you do stop supporting these issues in a way that tries to protect public safety, when you stop taking dirty needles off the streets and replacing them with clean ones, and you let the system sort itself out — How much damage that does and how many real people get hurt.”

Ward 4 resident and business owner Tara Mareth described an incident in which a homeless person entered a building downtown, trashed the area, destroyed a table and left feces and urine on the floor.

“I want to make a request that we consider getting these people help and closing the camp. We don’t have the money to fund this. We’re not taking care of things in other areas of town. We’re funneling money into this problem,” Mareth said.

“These people do need help, but they need to be willing to get the help they need. And they need to obey the law,” she said.

The permit for the homeless camp behind City Hall expires on March 15. The council will need to take action to extend it or move it to a different site at one of the next meetings on Feb. 26 or March 11.