Commentary: Empowering Accountability to Improve, Sustain and Save Lives Requires Focused Humanitarian Action With a Longer View


As county and city leaders work in concert, engaging cooperatively with community stakeholders, state and federal officials, other municipalities and leaders already addressing homelessness issues, it is critical that we focus on what we are striving to accomplish and, fundamentally, why it is imperative we succeed.

As multiple jurisdictions across Lewis County coordinate our efforts on homeless encampment removal and cleanup, we must remember that this policy decision and practical initiation of action is not simply focused on the physical removal of dangerous, dirty, demoralizing and dehumanizing sites. 

The removal and cleanup, while critical to the safety and welfare of the individuals suffering there and the community at large, is dealing with the effects, not the root causes, of what we truly face.

I have taken the time to visit these encampments. I have interacted with those struggling at Blakeslee Junction and other sites. I have come to the irrefutable realization that the vast majority of those “choosing” to remain there do so as a result of addiction. 

I cannot help but conclude that efforts of short term assistance, addressing immediate short term needs (needle exchange, etc.), while well intended, kind and objectively noble in purpose and implementation, simply delay or even promote the inevitable harmful and deadly outcomes for those sought to be helped.

I hold no illusion that drugs are the only issue. 

Mental health, financial desperation, violence and abuse and other case by case impacts contribute to the path of the individuals and families enduring these encampments. We need to face these commingled issues head on. But we need to face them. We need to drive a survivable outcome for them and our communities.

It's soul crushing to attend funerals of people we have known and loved for years. Blinded by addiction. Clouded by the ravages of an insatiable appetite driving them to believe they want to stay in a horrific, unsanitary, unsafe setting with no hope or view for their wellbeing or future beyond their next injection. 

When I am told they didn’t “want to” leave, I can’t dispute it. But I do know that they need to leave. 

I know also, with meaningful intervention and our collective efforts to empower rational decisions and healthy outcomes, we can help these individuals return to recognizing what they truly need, what they truly want. 

We can create a path to responsibility. 

I’ve seen firsthand a man who escaped the cycle. I witnessed the withdrawals. I felt his panic. I saw the return to rational thought, of self respect. He no longer doesn’t want to leave. 

We can help these people survive. We can empower a return to community. We can stop enabling a continued spiral into despair and death.

Please support the enactment of these important policy initiatives. Please empower the health and restoration of those struggling. Please protect the wellbeing and safety of your family, friends and neighbors.

I encourage all who can to come to the encampment removal and cleanup policy hearing at 10 a.m. Oct. 25 in the commissioners' hearing room on the second floor of the Lewis County Courthouse at 351 NW North St. in Chehalis.


Sean Swope is a Lewis County commissioner representing District 1.