The City of Aberdeen is moving forward with its plan to clear the Chehalis River waterfront homeless camp, and Mayor Erik Larson says work to remove vehicles, tents and other temporary structures from the property will soon begin.
In a news release from Larson’s office on Tuesday, he said the city has now removed much of the garbage and overgrown vegetation in the city-owned area and will move on to the next step toward eventually moving everyone from the property. Dozens of people are living along the river in makeshift tents or vehicles. The camp goes back years, but in the past couple of years, it seems to have grown dramatically.
In order to control traffic on the property, Larson said a metal gate restricting vehicle access would be closed on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 5 p.m.
“The city maintains its position that the property is not safe for human habitation,” the release says. “The city continues to recognize the need for a transition period for people currently on the property to find safe and/or permanent housing options.”
The release goes on to say that the city has placed “No Trespassing” signs about the property, and that the city “will actively enforce this provision on individuals without prior written permission.”
It adds that “non-profit groups and advocacy organizations interested in providing support to those on the property” are also required to have written permission to access the property.
The city purchased the property in June for $295,000, and Larson has said the city intends to eventually move everyone off the property and provide them other housing options.
Wednesday morning, Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate and several other police officers went through the homeless camp area, spoke with people living there, and recorded their names to go on a list.
The officers also asked the homeless campers if they were using any health or social services in the area, or if they hope to. Shumate said that those receiving or seeking those services would be given permission to temporarily stay on the property.
“Ultimately, the plan is those who have a desire to remain on the property and seek services will be given written authorization to remain on this property just for the foreseeable future,” said Shumate. “Obviously, we’re going into the winter months, and we’re not looking at tearing down structures in the middle of December.”
Bruce Watts, another officer at the property yesterday, said anyone staying on the property who isn’t on their list of people seeking or receiving health or social services would be cited for trespassing.
Unsure if vehicles would be towed away, some advocates for the homeless came out yesterday to support the people living there. Stina Janssen, who observed the officers’ interviews with the campers, said she’s concerned that the city will force homeless people to leave without first finding them an alternative place to live.
“We’ve heard the police go around and say, ‘We’ll connect you to services,’ but I have yet to hear them say a service that everyone here hasn’t already attempted to access, and those services are capped,” said Janssen. “It seems like there’s this empty promise of services, and it’s really hard to deliver on when they’re dry of funds.”
Emily Dawn, a pregnant 28-year-old who has lived on the property off-and-on for several years, said she recently moved into someone’s garage because of the city’s plan to move people off the land. She said it doesn’t make sense to her why the city is forcing people to leave.
“It’s heartbreaking, it makes me feel like they really don’t care,” said Dawn. “They’re booting us out of here, but where do we go from here? I want to stay with my significant other, and I can’t go to the Friendship house (which doesn’t accept men) with him. At least here we’re able to be together.”
She went on to say that it’s preferable to have much of the homeless population in one place, as opposed to spread throughout the city.
“At least here it’s contained. The crazy is contained to one speck, versus scattered about into society.”