Aberdeen opens homeless facility in City Hall parking lot

Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson, left, signs in Aaron and Jami Obi at the city’s new overnight homeless facility in the City Hall parking lot on Monday.
Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson, left, signs in Aaron and Jami Obi at the city’s new overnight homeless facility in the City Hall parking lot on Monday. Grays Harbor News Group

Personally supervising the City of Aberdeen’s controversial plan to house displaced homeless people after clearing the city’s longtime encampment, Mayor Erik Larson spent his Monday evening signing people up at the city’s new overnight homeless shelter in the parking lot behind City Hall.

As individuals entered the cloth-covered privacy fences, they each provided Larson information such as names, whether they had pets, and if they had a partner sharing the tent, before he handed each a sleeping bag.

“I kind of just decided to take this on, staff have been working hard to make this happen, and I was available this afternoon, so I figured I’d take the lead,” Larson said Monday afternoon.

The new tent facility – which currently has 17 tents set up but can accommodate 43 – is the city’s short-term answer for how to house homeless people who will be moved from the city’s longtime homeless encampment along the Chehalis River, which city officials say poses too big a public safety hazard to allow people to stay.

The tents, fencing, portable toilets and other supplies are being paid for by the city, which approved $30,000 to run the parking lot facility for just one month. Larson said he hopes this is a short-term facility that doesn’t last more than a month while he works to negotiate and acquire a more longterm property for homeless people to relocate.

There were seven people signed up at the encampment Monday a little after 5:30 p.m., some of whom had been living at the riverfront, while others said they had been couch surfing or camping in public elsewhere.

“It seems safe and secure I guess, and there’s no rats, which is an improvement,” said Debbie Sargent, who moved into a tent with her dog Monday after living on the riverfront since September.

A couple of people said it was sad to leave their homes on the riverfront, but that they wanted to secure a tent site before they potentially fill up after the riverfront is cleared. Other homeless people there Monday said a number of the riverfront inhabitants have moved to the south side of the Chehalis River, or fixed their broken-down vehicles to live out of them and leave town.

“The city’s working with what it’s got, but it seems pretty half-assed and thrown together,” said Jeff Bredfeldt, who added he’s recently been sleeping on the ground behind Walmart in a sleeping bag.

While checking people in, Larson asked that the guests sign an agreement form to follow the rules, such as no alcohol or drugs, having vaccinated pets, and no cooking in the facility. A volunteer provided free pet vaccinations Tuesday at the facility behind City Hall. The homeless guests were also given a sheet of resources for where to get free meals or treatment services.

City Attorney Patrice Kent and Community Development Director Lisa Scott were also at the site Monday assisting with the check-in process.

A police officer took over watching the site from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Larson said. A private security officer is expected to begin overseeing the facility after Monday morning. The cost of 24/7 security is expected to be $15,000 for the month.

Meanwhile, a potential showdown is shaping up at the riverfront camp, at least with a few residents who have said they would refuse to leave or said they would chain themselves to their shacks before leaving. City officials have said the sweeps will begin this week to try and remove everyone from the city-owned riverfront property.

Aberdeen Police officers went through the pre-existing encampment on the riverfront Thursday morning and counted 66 individual campsites and made contact with an estimated 50 residents, according to a police press release. The officers placed cards with codes on them to record the campsites, and informed the individuals they had 72 hours to vacate. The notices stated the camps would start getting cleared Monday, but the city held off as it didn’t have the parking lot facility complete.

Larson said sweeps of the riverfront would begin soon and continue through the week, but wouldn’t give a specific time.

Several of the homeless people on the riverfront told The Daily World Thursday they’d refuse to use the City Hall facility, and that they’re trying to find family or friends to stay with, while others said they’d have to be forced from their homes along the river.