Residents of the homeless encampment on Alabama Street have started leaving the campsite in advance of the city cleanup project happening next week.
City officials are requiring the Alabama Street site to be vacated by 8 p.m. Sunday in order for Longview to begin an extensive cleanup of the original site next week. The city freed up a neighboring employee parking lot to serve as a temporary alternate location for residents.
The moving process was still in its early stages Tuesday morning. Just over a dozen tents made the trip into the fenced-off parking lot, where nearly 100 potential spots had been outlined with pink and orange spray paint.
“It went pretty smooth for the first day. With the rain coming this weekend, it might be more of a scramble by the end,” said Jeremy Wilkins from the Cowlitz Family Health Center.
Wilkins has regularly been visiting the campsite for months through his new job doing homeless outreach for the health center, where he talk to residents and helps them connect with local medical services. Wilkins said his regular visits earned him enough trust with some members of the homeless encampment that the city asked him to help oversee the moving process.
The Longview City Council declared a public health emergency at the Alabama Street campsite Aug. 26. The declaration by City Manager Kurt Sacha said the growing volume of trash and unsanitary materials were creating an “imminent threat” to residents and the general public.
Paul Kent was one of the few residents who had moved his things by Tuesday morning. Kent said he’s been living in Longview for years, but only started staying at Alabama Street a few days before the city posted signs requiring them to leave for the cleanup.
“I know it’s been a long time coming,” Kent said. “Everyone has their own clean standards so it’s going to be interesting.”
Wilkins estimated around 75 residents would end up making the move into the temporary site and then back once the cleanup occurred. Some already have told Wilkins they plan to leave instead of following the city requirements for the cleanup.
Of the homeless residents who will remain, Wilkins said the majority were excited improvements were being made at the original site. He described the current layout as an organized chaos that made more sense to residents than visitors or city officials.
“They are very aware of the surroundings. It might look to us like it’s an absolute disaster, but they have a system going on and they know what the system is,” Wilkins said.
Signs posted by the city of Longview outside the campsite warned that personal property left behind Monday will either be disposed or temporarily seized by the city. Residents will have until Nov. 19 to claim those seized items before they are thrown out.
The city plans to use the local company Brookhart Excavation for the cleanup project. Cleaning work will include removing waste and leftover items from the campsite, laying down a bed of gravel to limit floods and standing water from rainstorms and removing fire-damaged trees.
City Public Works Director Ken Hash said the contract was not officially signed as of Tuesday, but should be finalized soon.