Federal hearing held on homeless eviction suit

A federal court hearing was scheduled for the U.S. District Court in Tacoma Tuesday afternoon, as part of a federal lawsuit aiming to stop the City of Aberdeen from clearing homeless people living in encampments along the Chehalis River.

The hearing will decide if the 10 plaintiffs receive an injunction to prevent the city from moving the homeless riverfront inhabitants, specifically until the city provides alternate shelter for them to move to, and if the evictions are unconstitutional. The lawsuit also targets several city codes as being unconstitutional for how they restrict public camping for homeless people in the city’s public spaces. It also asks for compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees to be determined by the court.

The federal hearing comes just a day before Wednesday night’s Aberdeen City Council meeting, where council members will vote to finalize Mayor Erik Larson’s proposed ordinance to clear the riverfront camps. The council was unanimous in the second reading to approve the ordinance, which would “prohibit all public access” to the riverfront property, which would lead to all the homeless people living on the river being forced to leave the area. The mayor has said his plan to clear the camps is strictly for public health, safety and wellness reasons, including the fact it’s directly next to several railroad tracks that Larson reported getting damaged by people going over them.

Last fall, 108 people were registered by the city as people living on the property. Larson reported that number getting cut in half, but staff for the homeless assistance group Revival of Grays Harbor say it’s still over 100 people there, and that an increasing number of young people have been moving in recently. The homeless people on the property live in dozens of tents, makeshift shacks, cars and trailers, and some have lived there for years.

This is the second federal lawsuit filed since one filed in November, when three homeless advocates successfully overturned the city’s permit system to restrict visitors to the homeless camps without city permission, where the judge was concerned it was unconstitutional.

This current lawsuit is on behalf of 10 people, including eight homeless people currently living along the river, along with the Rev. Sarah Monroe, an Episcopal priest, and Aberdeen resident Apryl Obi Boling.