Homeless camp sweep on hold until judge’s clarification

The city of Aberdeen has delayed its plan to provide 72-hours notice to evict homeless people in the ‘River City’ homeless camp until the city gets clarification from the courts on several ordinances temporarily barred by a federal judge, according to Mayor Erik Larson.

As part of a federal lawsuit attempting to stop Aberdeen from evicting homeless people living on a longstanding homeless camp — between the railroad tracks near downtown and the Chehalis river — U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton had denied a request for a temporary restraining order, and gave permission for the city to sweep the camp.

But Leighton also put a temporary ban on several city ordinances, including one to restrict public camping and a recently made law to prohibit sitting or lying down on sidewalks between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. in the downtown business improvement area. A trial date for Sept. 4 was scheduled to assess the constitutionality of those ordinances, and the city won’t enforce them before that date, Larson said.

Last week, the mayor said the city would notify people living on the riverfront Monday that they have 72 hours to vacate before clearing it. But he said in a phone call Monday morning that the city is waiting to hear back from the judge for clarification on how to interpret his order. He said because the judge’s order could be interpreted to say the city can’t enforce its public camping laws and clear the site, the city intends to clarify the matter before moving forward.

“There’s a couple of different ways to interpret the stay (Leighton) has on several different portions of the city code,” said Larson. “A couple of those interpretations would bar us from actually giving notice and clearing the people. I don’t think that was the judge’s intent, but we want a little more clarification before we proceed to make sure we’re not operating outside the order he’s given.”

There’s no requirement of how long it takes for the judge to respond, but Larson said he expects to hear back within the next few days.

“We’re definitely encouraging people on the property who are ready to move to voluntarily do so,” he said. “It’s something that’s imminent, and if it takes a few days for them to get their stuff settled and transitioned, it doesn’t hurt to start now.”

A group of city officials has been working to identify another place where the homeless people can move, and Larson said some proposals for the Aberdeen City Council regarding the site’s closure should appear in the agenda Monday afternoon.

To reach Daily World reporter Louis Krauss, send an email to lkrauss@thedailyworld.com or call 360-537-3926.