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County homeless committee to consider new location, old site for campers

County homeless committee to consider new location, old site for campers

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Alabama Street site

A Longview city notice is posted outside the temporary campsite off Oregon Way and Alabama Street.

In its first meeting in more than two months, the county’s ad hoc homeless committee directed staff to gather information on a new site to consider for homeless campers.

The site is on the 1600 block of 13th Avenue in Kelso, at the south end of the Cowlitz County Public Works building, near the Foster Farms chicken plant site.

The City of Longview designated the current campsite off Alabama Street in December to move campers away from City Hall and other public properties. Responding to the coronavirus delayed the committee’s efforts to find a second site by the City of Longview’s original March 30 deadline. The city also put off moving campers because of the health risks.

Kurt Sacha, Longview city manager, said its been about 150 days since the site was established, and as the county moves forward in the governor’s phased reopening plan, it’s time to look for a new site.

“I am concerned for the residents and the conditions in which they live,” he said. “I feel for their safety and for the community, we need to come together to find alternative locations so we can get in and restore and sanitize the Alabama Street property.”

Starting in January, the committee considered 12 proposed sites but rejected all of them all by the end of February.

Before the virus response took over, the county staff had been putting together a site plan that could be applied to multiple locations and would include costs for temporary fencing, gravel, pallets, portable toilets and hand wash stations.

Sacha said he wants the committee to identify two other sites to rotate with the Alabama Street site every four months. He suggested the committee consider the 13th Avenue site and Courthouse Square site across the street from the Hall of Justice in addition to the Alabama Street location.

When reviewing sites earlier this year, the committee evaluated them based on size and distance from transit, schools, day cares and residences.

Sacha proposed considering the new location on 13th Avenue because it appears to be large enough and away from schools, day cares and residences. The site is about 1,000 feet from the nearest residence.

Andy Hamilton, Kelso city manager, said there is a day care center— Wee Care Day Care — about a half-mile down the street from the 13th Avenue site.

Mike Moss, county public works director, spoke out against the site in consideration of his employees. He said he wouldn’t want to share a parking lot with the site.

Longview Councilwoman Ruth Kendall said it’s important to remember the new camp will be managed, unlike the current site, and there will be ways to reduce problems, such as people loitering near businesses or littering.

The Cowiltz County commissioners, who would ultimately vote on the committee’s recommendation, want the site to have rules, structure, and a code of conduct. The site it would need trash disposal, toilet facilities and security, said Axel Swanson, chief of staff.

Commissioner Dennis Weber, who is also a member of the homeless committee, said the sites would not be permanent but still have to be orderly and help the campers address the causes of homelessness.

The county would likely use revenue from document recording fees, as well as other funds specifically earmarked for homeless services to help fund the site, Swanson said.

City of Longview has spent about $40,000 to install fencing and spends about $2,000 a month to rent portable toilets and washing stations.

The City of Olympia budgeted about $520,000 for the year to run a similar hosted camp site, which includes mapped-out camp spots, portable toilets, garbage services and a code of conduct.

The committee discussed establishing a good neighbor agreement, similar to what the temporary warming shelter is required to have.

Kendall said she thinks the agreement is a good idea because it gives baseline for expectations.

Sacha agreed and said the agreement has worked well for the warming shelter at First Christian Church. He said although the church, located next to a day care and across the street from a school, is not an ideal location, he didn’t receive complaints during its operation.

The committee directed staff to score the new 13th Avenue site based on the previous criteria and gather more information about running a hosted site. The committee is set to meet at 9 a.m. on Friday, June 5, to consider the sites and agree on a recommendation for the county.

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