Homelessness Discussion

Sherif Rob Snaza (left) described efforts to provide low-level housing for the homeless.

Campaigning for state funding to get people off the streets and into low-barrier shelter facilities was a talking point all parties agreed on at Tuesday’s Sheriff’s Update meeting at the Historic Courthouse in Chehalis, with the Department of Health and Social Services leading the charge in the county-wide effort. 

“This is something I think we can do,” began Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, who said he had discussed with Public Health Director J.P. Anderson the idea of providing individuals who are found sleeping on sidewalks or camping in front of businesses with the warmth and safety of a low-barrier shelter. 

Unlike some traditional shelters that may require guests to be sober or undergo a drug test, low-barrier shelter sites reportedly accept individuals in any condition if they are out of options. 

“I think we need to have a real discussion with the Legislature on this … We’ve always been leaders in so many areas, in so many ways,” added Snaza. “I think there are going to be some glitches and bumps along the roadway. But, you know, when we see people out in the streets … we’ll have a place to send them.” 

Lewis County currently does not have an all-weather homeless shelter. The Hub City Mission operates a severe weather shelter at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds that is only open when the overnight low is forecast to be 38 degrees F or lower.

County Commissioner Edna Fund referenced some of the difficulties the sheriff alluded to by mentioning some pushback on the shelter plan from a constituent. 

However, Fund countered that “Centralia has always been interested in this.” 

In addition, she noted a recent court ruling against the City of Boise, in which the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals eventually issued a landmark verdict stating that cities can’t enforce a camping ban in the event of a lack of shelter beds. The issuance of citations under that scenario would reportedly violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as per the 9th Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over districts in nine states, including Washington. 

“If you don’t have something, you can’t move people off,” said Fund in making a case for the addition of low-barrier shelter space for Lewis County’s homeless population, which Snaza estimated to be at about 130. 

County Commissioner Bobby Jackson told Snaza of his own conversations with Anderson in relation to a county government initiative to interface with religious leaders.

Snaza said he was on board, but said the county might need a bigger facility.

“It’s here. I think one of the things we tried to get across to the governor was that if we had the resources, Lewis County will work on their specific (homeless) issue. We don’t want a cookie-cutter type program to be given to us and say, ‘This is how you do it.’ It doesn’t work. We have specific issues we have to address that are more indigeonous to Lewis County. So, that’s one of the messages we’re trying to send and J.P. is the one who’s on top of it,” Jackson said.

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