ABERDEEN Relocated homeless campers are adjusting to their new home in the Amazing Grace Lutheran Church’s parking lot, Aberdeen’s first sanctioned homeless encampment, while neighbors wait to see how things work out.
Campers spent Monday moving to the new location, honoring a deadline imposed by the city to have a piece of property along the Chehalis riverfront cleared of campers and trash by June 1. By Tuesday afternoon, the camp at the church had nearly doubled in size, with 12 tents sitting on wooden pallets around the edges of the parking lot.
Most campers said the first night in the new site was relatively quiet.
“I slept like a baby,” said Justin Hughes, one of the first campers to move in. “Nobody bothered us.”
Donald Jackson, a camper who leveled off pallets and built tents for the new residents, said the only problems were the theft of a walking stick and a mess left in one of the portable restrooms. The camp, Jackson added, met with church leadership later in the week to outline guidelines to curb such problems.
Jackson said he’s seen some passersby alerting volunteers about campers who had spilled over onto neighboring property and congregated on a set of stairs behind the Driftwood Theatre. He’s happy that people are keeping the campers honest.
“We’re not trying to be like everybody thinks that we are,” he said.
But some campers said their concerns about a lack of privacy have been confirmed. As a group fixed sandwiches and made small talk Tuesday, a red sedan passed through the alley adjacent the lot.
The people inside cast glances that camper Larry Osborn couldn’t help but notice.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a different world with people driving by and looking,” Osborn said.
Calvin Forbes, another camper, called the campsite a “fishbowl” and said he liked the scenery along the river.
Campsite neighbor George Susewind, who has lived across the alley from the lot since 1980, said he’s remaining neutral on the subject and hasn’t attended the church’s meetings with neighbors to avoid any confrontations.
“They’re good neighbors,” Susewind said of the church. “As far as I was concerned, they’re trying to do something good, so let’s see what happens.”
Leaders from the church and the Driftwood Theatre met to discuss concerns theater leaders had about the safety of volunteers and patrons.
Though theater president-elect Ben Hohman said he hasn’t heard any outcry from patrons, the board is pre-emptively addressing the issue.
“We’re just thinking in terms of if there were something like this up near a theater in Seattle or Olympia and I had to go to it, would I be sort of concerned about leaving my vehicle in the parking lot,” he said. “You could easily understand patrons having a concern about (that) with the encampment sitting there.”
Even with all the change, it’s not hard for some campers to remain optimistic.
“I’m not complaining or anything,” Osborn said. “Anybody that helped, it’s appreciated. That’s for sure.”