Larson says city should buy homeless camp land

Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson will bring plan to the council next week

Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson says he wants the city to purchase a piece of riverfront property that has been controversial due to the many homeless people living there. He said he’ll present his plan to the City Council at next Wednesday’s meeting.

The land is owned by Mike Lang, who has tried unsuccessfully to clear the homeless camps and vehicles.

“… The current situation is untenable and the owner of the property lacks the resources to maintain the property. It is just simpler from a legal standpoint, and also likely cheaper, for the city to buy the property than to use our abatement authority to clean it up,” Larson wrote in an email to The Daily World. “It also provides flexibility in our actions, which would otherwise be limited just to abatement.”

According to the Grays Harbor County Assessor’s website, the property is valued at $609,840 for taxing purposes.

The long, thin piece of property is between the railroad tracks and the Chehalis River and stretches roughly the length of the core of the downtown area.

The population of the camp fluctuates, but there often are about 100 people living there in tents, shacks made of scrap material and tarps, along with cars and recreational vehicles.

Larson said the city wants to be involved in finding other housing for the campers.

“We would look to clean up and secure the property, with the eventual goal of connecting all of the residents to housing resources and eventually removing everyone from the property,” Larson said.

Lang and Larson have had multiple meetings to discuss the land and Lang’s difficulties managing it. Larson said those talks stalled after the involvement of Sam Hutchinson, an Ocean Shores resident who has been working on Lang’s behalf to remove the homeless people from the property in recent months.

Larson said they have settled on a price, but he wouldn’t say what it is.

The decision to buy the property will take city council approval, as would future decisions on how to use it, Larson said.

In addition, Larson said he intends to place a gate at the railroad crossing that leads to River Street near the old Stouffer Lumber Company building. The gate would be to keep vehicles out of the area.

Phil Calloway, executive director for the Revival of Grays Harbor homeless assistance group, said he’s in favor of the city purchasing the land, and that he hopes the city allows a window of time for Revival or others to assist in finding housing for the homeless people before they are forced out.

He was also in favor of putting up a monitored gate to discourage homeless people from entering the property, but thinks issues could arise as a result.

“If they’re just going to lock everyone in or out, there’s going to be an issue,” said Calloway. “They’ll figure out a way to get across it, let’s put it that way.”

Larson said the gate would be installed “as soon as possible.” His idea to purchase the land will be presented at the May 23 Aberdeen City Council meeting, held at 7:15 p.m. in Aberdeen City Hall.