Residents and business owners attended last week’s Aberdeen City Council meeting to demand that city officials do something to curb problems associated with the growing number of people living on streets and in alleys downtown as well as on the pathway near Morrison Riverfront Park.
Cheryl Hancock and Suellen Metke had circulated a petition declaring “a vote of no-confidence in our city government.” The petition containing more than 90 signatures of mostly local business owners was presented to the council.
“We, the citizens of Grays Harbor, demand that action be taken to make our community clean and safe,” the petition read.
The petition describes the increased numbers of people intoxicated in public; panhandling and accosting people on the streets, in parking lots and inside businesses, asking for money; squatters camping on city and private property; people breaking into vacant properties to take up residence; and people urinating and defecating on public ground and in business doorways.
The petition also complains about shoplifting, theft, prostitution and other problems.
Hancock said Tuesday that she’s been hearing from people concerned about the minimal police presence around town and especially downtown.
“Some people want the Police Department to be proactive, not reactive,” she said.
That would include more foot and bicycle patrols downtown and elsewhere.
Hancock also has recommended more ordinances to curb panhandling and placement of portable restrooms.
Metke said they bought their property for the Grand Heron store 21 years ago. Homeless people have loitered drunk in the nearby alley for as long as she can remember, she said.
“My husband is retired, but instead of going fishing, he’s there to protect me,” she said.
Mayor Erik Larson told the petitioners that unless the underlying issues that cause homelessness are addressed, these conditions will “continue to exist.”
But Larson said, “Some things we’ve done recently have been more effective than things done in the past” and that the city needs facilities so people will have “somewhere to go.”
Added to the meeting, but not on the agenda, was a council resolution expressing support for a Grays Harbor County ballot proposal that would increase the sales tax by 3/10s of 1 percent — 3 cents for every $10 purchase — which would allow the city to hire three more patrol officers.
The proposal is slated for the Aug. 2 primary ballot.
Larson said the resolution would be posted on the city’s website soon for public viewing.
Susie Laird of The Tap Room was dismayed about the petition and urged people to reach out to local homeless people — to talk to them to see if they could help them. She took one woman to get identification and has provided bags of clothes so they’ll have proper things to wear, she said.
“I know something needs to be done now,” she said, “but we need some compassion.”