A homeless man with a homemade flatbed trailer stacked high with his belongings drew criticism from local residents this week as he camped near the intersection of 14th Avenue and Douglas Street.
But the camper, Jim Nicholas, said he ended up in the middle of town because police forced him and others out of their camps on the outskirts of the city.
“Every time we got a camp going, (police) shut it down. ... We can’t stay here, and we can’t stay there,” but there’s nowhere left to go, Nicholas said.
Local advocates for the homeless say the city’s crackdown on homeless camps — leaving some with no other options for places to stay — is driving the issue into the public eye. Longview city officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“(We should be) spending as much time and effort trying to find a solution instead of chasing people around,” said Luke Keilwitz, a pastor at the Evergreen Terrace Gospel Chapel in Longview. “There needs to be a temporary fix ... instead of putting everyone in an impossible situation” with nowhere to go.
Nicholas, 51, said he’s been homeless since returning to his hometown of Longview in August 2018. He spent about 10 years living in Montana, but returned to Longview on his last dollars after his mother died, he said. A former laborer with the Local 335 Union, Nicholas is unable to work due to shoulder and back injuries, he said, and he’s no longer eligible for union insurance to help fix the disability.
“I’m homeless in my hometown, and I hate it,” Nicholas said.
After getting kicked out of a camp in West Longview, he spent about three weeks camping in various locations off 15th Avenue, including the back lot for the Red Kitchen restaurant and the block surrounding the Longview Church of the Nazarene. Most recently, he’s been staying along Douglas Street with a trailer full of belongings and a sign protesting the city’s approach to the homeless.
His camp had been called a “mess” and an “eyesore” by passersby, some of whom made nasty comments to him, Nicholas said.
“You get different reactions, but most of them are negative,” he said, adding that “a lot of (camps) are an eyesore, and that’s why we try to keep them hidden” until the city forces them out.
Keilwitz said that if the city had “a sanctioned space with receptacles and bathrooms ... then you wouldn’t have a mess.” Though some of the homeless residents try to clean up their camps when they move on, said Nicholas, who carried a broom and rake with him from site to site.
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On Wednesday evening, police issued Nicholas a $500 ticket for storage of personal property on public grounds and took the trailer and most of the items on it, he said. A downsize from recent days with the trailer, Nicholas’ camp Thursday early afternoon featured the small blue tarp and sheet of bubble wrap he’d fashioned into a sleeping bag, two large storage totes and his backpack. A small pile of clothing sat in the grassy right of way in front of the church, about a block from his main camp behind Furniture World and the same location his trailer had been parked on Wednesday.
Nicholas said he sustained a back injury trying to move his totes, and he spent much of Thursday morning laying in the grass waiting for police to arrive to tell him to leave. Representatives with Love Overwhelming helped Nicholas check into the hospital Thursday afternoon. His camp was cleaned up by his friends and LO, he said, and nothing was left of the piles of clothing, tarps, totes and other items Thursday evening.
Michael Yost, senior pastor at the Longview Church of the Nazarene, said church staff have noticed Nicholas’ various campsites in the last month. On occasion, they’ve asked him to move because the church doesn’t allow camping on the property, Yost said.
However, Nicholas was never “threatening or belligerent” toward church staff, Yost said. He hadn’t caused trouble for the YMCA either, said CEO Janine Manny, nor has he entered her building asking to shower.
Nicholas has also never asked Yost if the church can help, the pastor said.
“We administer help when people ask, but he’s never approached me,” Yost said. “Many do, but he has not.”
The Nazarene church “seems to be very magnetic to people” searching for an overnight camping ground, Yost said. It’s located near the hospital and it’s just a short walk from several local assistance programs, he said. But usually the campers move on during the day, unlike Nicholas, who was relatively stationary, Yost said.
Nicholas didn’t clarify why he’d selected 14th Avenue as his most recent camping site, but he did note that he was “making a stand” by staying in the area.
“Every day I got hassled over there ... but I asked for it,” Nicholas said.
It was unclear Thursday where he would go after he was released from the hospital.
“I’m homeless in my hometown, and I hate it.” — Jim Nicholas