Aberdeen Council passes second reading to clear riverfront homeless camps

The Aberdeen City Council moved a step closer toward clearing the city’s homeless encampment along the Chehalis River by unanimously passing the second reading Wednesday of a proposed ordinance.

Mayor Erik Larson proposed an ordinance that, if it passes at the final reading Wednesday, May 8, would prompt the city to clear the city’s homeless camp and prevent any public access to it. The ordinance would take effect after passage at that May 8 meeting. Larson said if it’s passed at the next council meeting, the evictions wouldn’t begin until May 11 at the earliest.

Larson discussed the ordinance before all 12 council members voted in favor of it, saying it was “purely” a safety action, and he is concerned that a train derailment could result in multiple deaths of those living on the riverfront property.

“If this were a property that was safe, I would make a recommendation to council that we make a sanctioned facility there to take what is an ad-hoc grouping of homeless individuals and turn it into something that mirrors facilities in other parts of the state,” said Larson. “But it’s not a safe property, and a lot of data collected over the past year demonstrates that.”

Even though the ordinance is still just a proposal, eight of the riverfront inhabitants, an Episcopal priest and another Aberdeen woman have filed a federal lawsuit over it. None of the council members brought up the lawsuit during the public meeting, and a 45-minute executive session was held prior to the public vote to approve the ordinance’s second reading. Several council members and Larson declined to talk about the lawsuit.

When asked about the plan, Larson wouldn’t give specifics, other than to say the city would clear the site and close it off to public access. He added that it will be a regulated process, giving the riverfront homeless people due process, and wouldn’t involve multiple bulldozers showing up all at once to clear everyone. He also cited the pending lawsuit as a reason to not discuss it further.

The meeting was packed with citizens, and during a public hearing on the ordinance many criticized the decision to clear the camps. A common concern was that without the city offering another place for the riverfront homeless to move to, clearing the site would simply transfer the problem to other parts of the city.

“It has the perception of, ‘Let’s dig a hole, bury these guys, cover them over, plant some flowers, problem solved!’ ” Aberdeen resident Thomas Davis said. “I don’t think so, it’s not going to work that way, and we’ve got a duty to protect every fellow man.”