Mayor Bill Simpson is considering extending an eviction deadline for homeless people living in camps along the Chehalis River after outcry from community members on both sides of the issue at last week’s Aberdeen City Council meeting.
The mayor announced his decision in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the council chambers.
About 20 campsites along the north side of the river near the empty Stouffer Lumber Co. building are home to some of Aberdeen’s homeless. Eviction notices were served March 11. The notices were issued by the city, but on private property, with the city’s code enforcement officer citing the trash in the area as a safety hazard.
The notices, posted on tents or handed out directly to campers, mandate that they leave the area by March 31.
The Rev. Sarah Monroe, founder of Westport-based Chaplains on the Harbor, was among those urging the council to extend the eviction to allow campers to find a new place to live or for the city to provide an alternative.
“We’re all responsible for each other,” Monroe told the council, as voices muttered “amen” from the crowd. “We’re all responsible for the common good. And I know that most of us love this place, and most of us want to see this town thrive.”
City Attorney Eric Nelson advised against any action by the city on the property without consent of the owners. This included both extending time for the camps as well as enforcing the evictions.
That affected Simpson’s decision. “I will ... see if we can’t get it extended, but under the conditions that the property owners say, ‘Yeah, they can have that time.’ ”
But some residents also felt strongly about the litter campers are leaving behind. William Perry, who owns property along the river near the camps, criticized Grays Harbor County’s needle-exchange program, which provides one-to-one exchanges of clean needles for used ones.
“I am so tired of the whole community backing this,” Perry said. “It’s just nuts. You’re allowing people to do illegal activity, and you’re giving them clean needles to do it under a bridge.”
The Daily World in Aberdeen had spoken to some of the people who live in the camps in the week before the meeting.
Corky Morrison, a 59-year-old Seattle native, moved to Aberdeen in 1983 and worked as an asphalt equipment operator for two decades. Then, in 2008, a back injury put him out of work. His income ran dry, and three years later he was on the street.
Morrison, an Army veteran who says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, now lives out of his vehicle, a red Ford Explorer that he parks on the north side of the river among railroad tracks and industrial buildings. He said he’s lived there for nearly two years.
Morrison said the area is home to nearly 50 in the summer.
“If you’re not buying a house, you’re homeless,” Morrison said. He contends that anyone who rents a home on the Harbor is one paycheck away from being in a tent by the river.
Morrison said he goes to places like the Union Gospel Mission on Heron Street to eat and shower. But the crowded conditions prevent him from living there with his PTSD.
With tents along the river the last resort for most campers, the city needs to provide an alternative if it plans to post evictions, Morrison said.
Rick Marcoe, 57, lives in one of the many blue-tarp tents. His home is one of the most visible because of an elaborate archway he’s pieced together with wood.
The Tacoma native moved to Aberdeen about 20 years ago and worked primarily in property management. The eviction notices were the city’s way of showing a lack of support for its homeless population, he said,
Marcoe said he just wants to be left alone. “We just need a place where we don’t get kicked when we go to sleep,” he said.
Bill Sidor, the city’s code enforcement officer, said the city planned to wait until spring to start the evictions. But, after receiving complaints about thefts and assaults allegedly committed by some of the homeless in the area, Sidor sent them out earlier.
The city can post eviction notices on private property if the property poses health risks, he said.
Before the meeting, Monroe said she thinks the focus on tourism has left city leaders ignoring issues of homelessness and turning to improving the city’s storefronts and attractions.
“Cleaning up towns has become a priority, I think, for a lot of cities and towns around the country,” she said. “I think we have the same push in Aberdeen. I think there’s a tendency more and more for cities to adopt policies to push people out of the way instead of actually address the common good.
“If the city is going to evict, there needs to be an alternative place for people to go,” she said. “Is there public land for people to go? I think that’s a temporary solution. The city needs to take our housing crisis seriously.”
But Monroe said she was happy that the mayor is investigating ways to possibly extend the eviction notices.
“We were very pleased with the mayor’s promise,” she said. “We’re going to keep showing up in support of folks and keep working for more solutions and better lives here in Aberdeen.”