The Lions Shelter at Lake Sacajawea in Longview appears to be mostly vacant now following months of debate and controversy over the homeless people who were camping there.
However, a group of about a dozen people Monday had set up a new camp on the other side of the lake at Kessler Boulevard near the hospital, sparking questions of whether the problem has been addressed or merely moved.
An ordinance outlawing tents and tarps in city park structures passed by the Longview City Council earlier this month has helped free up the shelter for other citizens to use, Longview City Manager Kurt Sacha said Monday.
“The hope is that we return our parks to the citizens — all citizens — so that they can enjoy them for their intended uses,” Sacha said. “(These ordinances help) in keeping the community clean, safe and free from blight.”
However, Love Overwhelming Executive Director Chuck Hendrickson said the ordinance has pushed people out of the shelter and created “a cat and mouse game” with the homeless.
One of the campers near the hospital, Rae Jeanna Cunningham, told The Daily News she had been recently staying at the Lions Shelter until police asked her and others to move.
Cunningham, 55, said the group is trying to follow the city’s new ordinance regarding tarps in park structures. She said she was grateful to the police officer who explained the new rules and said her group swept clean the Lions Shelter before they left.
But the changes also mean “We have nowhere to go at night to sleep,” she said. “If it’s not the police asking us to get up and move, it’s someone (else).”
She’s developed pneumonia, she said, and she knows of many others who have visited the emergency room for health concerns related to the weather.
“When it rains, we have to sit there in the rain and just get wet,” Cunningham said.
Hendrickson said some homeless people have told LO that there have been more sweeps to remove campers and there has also been an influx of people at the organization’s building on 14th Street.
Longview Police Captain Debbie Pineda said officers have been checking on the park regularly, but there hasn’t been a special emphasis on the tarps and tent ordinance or the 10 p.m. curfew in city parks. Instead, police respond to calls or address infractions as they see them, she said, adding that officers have noticed fewer people camping at the lake in recent weeks.
Ordinances are “positive steps” towards addressing Longview’s quality of life, Pineda said, but “there’s maybe bigger social issues and social problems that are going to take more than a police department, or an economic development department or a parks department coming up with the answers to those things.” And the problem is nationwide, she added.
Sacha said the people who set up a new camp across from the hospital are also violating an existing ordinance that outlaws camping and “that’s not something we’re going to allow, either.”
Cunningham said her group will stay at their encampment under the trees until police tell them they can’t anymore. “Then we don’t know what we are going to do,” she said.
“There’s nowhere for people to go,” Hendrickson said. “It’s unfortunate there’s no solution on the back end for people to be somewhere that’s appropriate and has public health and safety (in mind.)”
The city has been trying to connect people with services, Sacha said, but people don’t always want to participate.
“We have a wonderful community, a beautiful community, and we certainly will do our best to make sure it stays that way,” Sacha said.