City to contact campers, advise them of their options
Members of the Vancouver City Council enacted a plan in a matter of days to work on the growing issue of encampments throughout the city, with a priority being placed on the homeless in Leverich Park and the surrounding area.
A week after more than 100 emails were sent to one city council member, and a few days after area residents toured the area with two council members, city leaders announced a plan Monday at its weekly meeting.
There is a two-phase approach. The first is to make contact with the campers, advising them of their options. Leverich Park and its surrounding trails were never supposed to become safe zones, a place for the homeless. The city does have some space left at its designated safe parking zone in east Vancouver for cars and RVs.
The second phase would be to ask for volunteers to help with the clean-up at the camping areas. Neighbors have reported a rise in graffiti and other forms of vandalism in recent weeks.
Clark County Today went on the tours with the residents last week and documented trash piles, abandoned tents, and people living in tents along the trails, as well as a parking lot full of vehicles, tents, and tarps.
One homeowner who addressed members of the city council at the meeting said he no longer feels safe in his neighborhood after encountering homeless people on the trails giving him intimidating looks. He called it a “really scary place to be” now, with people popping out of bushes.
He also worried about the environmental impact, with the garbage and human waste.
Another homeowner said she is “concerned about the neighborhood and the environment around us.”
Eric Holmes, the city manager, said that the city has noticed an increased number of people camping in the area. The city is listening to the complaints of homeowners.
Among the objectives of the plan announced on Monday include educating encampment residents of other housing/parking options, and asking encampment residents to voluntarily disperse.
If necessary, the city could use staff and contractors to move campers from the encampment.
From there, the city wants to provide volunteers with a safe environment to help clean the sites.
Council member Bart Hansen, who received more than 100 emails regarding Leverich Park on Sept. 21, said he appreciates staff and the council for moving so quickly on the issue.
After the meeting, he told Clark County Today that speed still matters, though. While it might take some time to move the homeless, the city should act right away in cleaning up hazardous materials. He found several discarded hypodermic needles just off the Ellen Davis Trail during his tour last week.
“There are problems we can address right now. If we have a facility for folks to go, they need to go to that facility. If garbage needs to be cleaned up, we need to clean up the garbage,” he said.
“I can’t have sharps sitting around in the park. I can’t have graffiti all over the wall. I’m not going to hand over Leverich Park and throw my hands in the air and say, ‘Oh, it’s too big to deal with.’”
Council member Ty Stober expressed concerns about the plan, though.
“Where are we asking them to move to?” he asked.
Stober said he understands that the sanitation issue must be addressed immediately but he did not see a real plan for where the people are supposed to go after being asked to leave Leverich Park.
“I hate to use this term with real people, but we’re playing Whack-a-Mole here. They’ve got to go some place,” Stober said. “I don’t believe that we have the ability to provide them options for another place to go.”
Initial contact with those camping at or near Leverich Park was scheduled to be done this week.
“We will be taking on this issue,” Hansen said.