The Kelso City Council on Tuesday roundly opposed creating a proposed tent city in West Kelso across the street from the Hall of Justice to ease the county’s homeless problem.
The Cowlitz County Homeless Task Force this week proposed two locations near the Hall of Justice as possible temporary or emergency “self-shelter” spaces where people could camp, sleep in cars or set up other shelters.
The task force’s preferred location is about 1.5 acres of land south of the Hall of Justice parking area in Longview, directly across the street from the county jail. It’s located between First Avenue and the Cowlitz River dike and just north of the old Charlie’s Restaurant.
The secondary recommended location is about 15,000 square feet in West Kelso on the west side of First Street between Lincoln and Washington streets. The vacant lot is county-owned and directly across the street from the Hall of Justice but is also near a residential area.
The task force is a group of local government officials and citizens appointed by the Cowlitz County commissioners to find solutions to homelessness. The commissioners are asking for reactions from the cities before considering the task force’s recommendation, Kelso City Manager Steve Taylor said.
The committee evaluated 14 locations for the tent city, including several outside the Longview and Kelso city limits (see list on Page A3).
Kelso City council members objected to the West Kelso location, but they did not say much about the Longview site.
“My opinion is no way. Not inside city limits. Not by houses with children. To have a homeless shelter with tents in the backyard, I don’t feel that’s a very good idea. I would vote no, no how,” said typically reserved Councilwoman Kimberly Lefebvre.
Councilman Jim Hill said “quick fixes” like tent cities don’t solve the underlying problem of homelessness. And the city had many problems with Love Overwhelming’s former shelter when it was located in downtown Kelso near the County Administration Building, he said.
“It was an awful circumstance for the folks who lived around that particular facility,” Hill said. “Every community is struggling with this and there’s no quick fix, but this sort of facility would put our people at risk.”
Councilman Larry Alexander said he was concerned about the impact on what the city has already invested, and plans to invest, in that part of West Kelso.
And Councilman Mike Karnofski said tent cities could become unregulated areas that take additional law enforcement.
Even Councilman Jeff McAllister, who is the Kelso representative on the homeless task force, said he opposed the location due to sanitary reasons.
“I see no reason that the county couldn’t decide on a location outside city jurisdictions. We can work on an agreement with law enforcement and (work) with the county health department to get services out to them to at least alleviate the problems the city has been facing,” he said.
However, he said, the committee wanted the tent city located within easy distance of police and social services, which is why it recommended the two locations.
The task force meets the last Thursday of each month. The next meeting is at 2 p.m. on Feb. 28 in Conference Room A of the Cowlitz County Health and Human Services Building at 1952 Ninth Ave. in Longview.
Mayor Nancy Malone concluded the meeting by honoring Kayla Chapman, who was shot and killed last month while working as a clerk at the Holt’s Quik Chek Market and Texaco gas station in Kelso.
Malone also thanked law enforcement officers for quickly arresting suspect D’Anthony Leslie Williams, a 19-year-old from Vancouver.
“I’m so proud of our police department,” she said.
In other business, the council:
- Heard general recommendations from downtown expert Becky McCray after her walking tour of Kelso Tuesday afternoon. (An in-depth story on McCray’s weeklong visit to Cowlitz County will appear in The Daily News on Sunday.)
- Approved the five-year capital improvement program.
- Supported code updates to the environmentally sensitive areas ordinance to clarify requirements for properties on steep slopes.
- Approved a $179,000 contract with Advanced Excavating Specialists of Longview to repair damage to Haussler Road near Lowrane Drive. The low bid was about $47,000 less than the city’s estimate.