Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave said on Thursday that he favors the property the city bought last year on South Michigan Street for a new homeless camp.
In August, he voted against buying the property at 421 S. Michigan St., which is behind the Finn Electric business on State Street. In that vote, the City Council authorized then-mayor Erik Larson to buy the Michigan Street land as an alternative location to the current homeless camp behind city hall.
In October, when the council voted on whether to permit the homeless camp, he was a vocal opponent and the council rejected the permit, essentially extending the life of the City Hall camp, known as the Temporary Alternative Shelter Location (TASL), until March 15.
The City Hall camp was established in July after the city closed the river camp where an estimated 150 homeless people had been camping.
Schave said that the situation has changed since the river camp was closed and the more strictly-controlled camp behind City Hall was established, with rules and 24-hour security.
Public opposition to the Michigan Street location, especially from nearby business owners, was strong. He said he hopes better communication with businesses and homeowners near the site will help alleviate some of their concerns.
The current City Hall site is at capacity and there’s no room for visitors, according to Schave and it was never meant to be permanent. The site on Michigan Street would be fenced and secure, but would be bigger and have more space away from the tents with picnic tables for the homeless and their visitors. Everyone would be required to sign in and out like at the City Hall camp, he said.
Overarching the issue of homelessness is a federal court decision that in essence says if shelter is not available, then homeless people can camp on publicly owned property, including sidewalks in some cases.
A city staff memo identifying 11 possible alternative shelter locations was presented by the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Homeless Response at the first council meeting of 2020 on Wednesday. All locations are already owned by the city. Schave said locations not on the list wouldn’t be considered and that many on the list have already been eliminated due to expected impact on surrounding properties, poor access to social services or locations already being used for other purposes.
Here is the list of locations the city has considered in the past. Virtually all of them are problematic to some degree.
While there are no current plans for the site of the Armory Building which was demolished in October after being destroyed by fire in June 2018, the site is surrounded by a residential area, and there are also schools nearby.
City Hall Parking Lot
The parking lot is the smallest site and the temporary camp there now is already at capacity.
Franklin Field was eliminated from consideration because it’s used as a retention pond for stormwater overflow.
Two of the three parcels were purchased using Washington State Department of Commerce funds and Commerce currently owns the property. The city would face penalties for change in use of the property, as a temporary encampment may constitute a material change in use of the project site.
Michigan Street (421 S. Michigan Street)
City Council authorized the purchase of the property for $60,000 in August for the purpose of operating a longer-term shelter. The council voted against using the property as a shelter location in October.
North End Park (North Aberdeen, across Wishkah River Bridge)
The North End Park is located in a residential area about 15 blocks from social service providers. A childcare facility is located immediately across the street from the park.
Peterson Playfield in West Aberdeen is also located in a residential area about 20 blocks from social service providers.
Sam Benn Park
Sam Benn Park is the biggest location and the most heavily used park in the city. It’s used regularly for large events.
“Skysweeps” / “Totem” properties
The property is along Curtis Street across from Swanson’s Grocery Store in South Aberdeen. In order to reach social services, occupants would need to cross the Chehalis River Bridge that has limited lighting. The properties are also located in a residential area.
Water Department Industrial Lot
There is construction planned for the spring and summer months and the lot is currently used for storage of concrete and asphalt fill material.
Zelasko Park was eliminated from consideration because of its location along the path of two major construction projects (North Shore Levee, and F Street Roundabout) anticipated to start in nine to 12 months.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Homeless Response will hold a public meeting at 7:15 on Jan. 29 in the City Council Chambers to discuss the ongoing situation.