Shores council facing decisions on homeless

Zoning is an issue

The City of Ocean Shores is considering rezoning a portion of the town’s core to address housing issues that involve the homeless. It’s been two years since the issue initially came up and since then, the city council has renewed a series of moratoriums blocking anyone from offering services to those experiencing homelessness. The council plans to discuss a “homeless ordinance” at its upcoming meeting.

Public works director Nick Bird said that in April, 2019, the city was approached by someone interested in building a shelter for homeless people. City officials learned that there was no specific ordinances in place limiting construction or services for the group, meaning anyone could build such a shelter anywhere in Ocean Shores.

In November of 2019, the council adopted the first of several 180-day emergency moratoriums against accepting permit applications for shelters and “all other similar land uses that provide social services to persons that are homeless.”

City councilperson Frank Elduen told the council during a recent meeting that the city needs to come up with an ordinance that works for everyone. “There are cities that have been sued over homeless issues,” said Elduen. “I believe it’s important that our homeless ordinance allows only a small number of beds, five or so, and a very short duration of time someone can stay — possibly five days a year.”

“No one wants homeless living year round in Ocean Shores,” Elduen continued. “A small number of beds and a short duration stay will prevent that.”

A public hearing was held earlier this month on an ordinance proposed by councilperson Eric Noble that would rezone a portion of the city to B1-A designation which would limit encampments, housing, and other services for people experiencing homelessness to between Minard Avenue on the east, Anchor Avenue on the west, Ocean Shores Boulevard to the north, and Barnacle Street NW to the south. The Westerly Motel, commercial properties and city buildings are included in the one-block-wide strip of properties, as well as the Anchor Avenue Thrift Store and the Ocean Shores Food Bank. During the public comment period one citizen said the area contained more than 50 residential and commercial properties.

No action was taken at the meeting. Councilperson Susan Conniry moved to add the topic to a future agenda and hopes to bring it up at the May 24 council meeting.

Ocean Shores allows camping in city limits, but has many restrictions, such as no tents unless an RV is present, no camping in the dunes, on the beach, or city property. There are also restrictions on how long an RV can be stored or occupied on an undeveloped site. The city also requires camping permits, which are issued by the police department.

The moratorium expires again in August, although it could be extended if the council doesn’t adopt a specific zone for the topic.

“We have no drug and alcohol treatment, no job training or mental services,” said Councilman Elduen, adding that because the city doesn’t have services for the homeless they should be transporting them somewhere else. “So get the person off the street and take them to where there is help.”