Neighbors share their experiences with a growing homeless population
VANCOUVER — Joe Newsome has lived in his house in northwest downtown Vancouver for three years. He knew there would be homeless people, after all, Share House is one of his neighbors. He just wasn’t ready for a warzone.
In February of last year, Newsome witnessed the police shooting that ended in the death of a homeless man named Michael Pierce. Soon after, the front window of his home was smashed in by a homeless man.
More recently, a riot broke out in front of his home. People wielding bottles of human waste attacked a car, which then proceeded to try and run people down at full speed.
“Ever since that happened, I’ve been on edge, I don’t sleep well. It’s definitely affected my life,” he said.
Newsome explained that around the first part of 2019, the increase of people, encampments, violence, and drug use began to increase dramatically. He chalks much of the situation in the northwest corner to what he sees as the city ushering homeless people into the area and away from Esther Short Park as well as the new waterfront.
“Immediately you could see the difference in the homeless that were in the neighborhood,” Newsome said. “They were getting very anxious, very antsy, it started to get louder and more rambunctious and there was more violence and it was an immediate reaction.”
Newsome recently founded a Facebook group of neighbors with similar experiences. The group now has over 20 homeowners. Newsome said he started the group after repeated attempts to report and address the issues with the city of Vancouver.
On multiple occasions, Newsome reports being told by city staff that the city has not pushed people into that area, and that they can only take action if the person(s) are blocking a walkway or endangering themselves or others.
After Vancouver councilors toured Leverich Park, which has been heavily affected by encampments to the dismay of neighbors, the City Council quickly voted on a response plan which will soon be implemented. Newsome is hoping similar action can and will be taken in his neighborhood.
“I’m talking about manipulating human bodies and picking and choosing which neighborhoods have to be affected by these encampments,” Newsome said. “That’s what really got me. I’m not mad that people are homeless, I’m not mad that these people are sleeping on the streets. I’m mad that the city is pushing them into certain areas … instead of just stepping up and kind of solving the problem.”
Newsome explained that many of his inquiries to what the regulations are, what law enforcement can do or be called for and if a plan of action exists on the part of the city have been met with vague responses.
When looking at the surrounding area, Newsome wondered why properties like the old Vancouver fire station near Open House Ministries have not been considered as options for either another shelter or source of funding for homelessness issues.
Another neighbor who lives near Newsome, also spoke to the issues her and her husband have experienced. She did not want to be named at this time due to safety concerns.
“There is blatant drug use and drug sales and suspicious vehicles that happen on our street, as well as overdoses occurring in or near Lincoln Place Apartments very regularly,” she said in a text message. “It’s not uncommon for us to be like, ‘Oh no, should we call the cops?! Or is that just nonsense shouting?!’ At all hours we are frequently woken up by shouting/screaming.”
Newsome recounted a time in which he offered a room in his own home for discounted rent to an older homeless veteran camping near him. The veteran, while thankful and respectful, declined the offer Newsome said. He would not be able to afford drugs and the rent.
Newsome draws a parallel between more regulated facilities like Open House and less strict ones like Share House or the Lincoln Place Apartments.
“The problem is that they want to live on the streets because there’s no accountability, there’s no laws, there’s no rules,” Newsome said. “Whereas something … that’s monitored and sanctioned, they would have to be respectful and they’d have to be polite and the drug dealers wouldn’t be able to come and go and that’s why they’d rather stay there on the streets.”
Clark County Today will continue this report with more from our conversation with Newsome, and check back soon for follow-up coverage of the city of Vancouver’s response to the situation.