Derelict RVs still an issue in Centralia despite new ordinance

Legal process started for those remaining at Blakeslee Junction homeless camp


Back in July, the City of Centralia passed a new ordinance prohibiting camping on city streets and limiting the amount of time an RV can be parked along a city street to 16 hours at a time. 

There wasn’t just a problem with RVs being parked in one spot for too long. RVs were also being abandoned on both city and private property. 

Despite the ordinance authorizing the towing and impoundment of unlawfully parked or abandoned RVs, some still remain on Centralia’s streets, much to the chagrin of some residents.

In the case of one RV near the intersection Reynolds Avenue and North Pearl Street, someone has even used bright paint to write “Tow!” on the seemingly abandoned vehicle. 

Since the ordinance’s approval, the Centralia Police Department has been able to successfully tow several derelict RVs, according to Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham, but the department is running into other issues while trying to continue the removal of abandoned vehicles. 

Denham said the main issues are a lack of impound space for towed RVs and only having one towing company in the area offering to tow them, Grant’s Towing. 

“Grant’s is the only one that we have that we can use,” Denham said. “We have three RVs right now that are ready to be towed, but they don’t have any room to take them.” 

This includes the abandoned RV currently at the northeast corner of the North Pearl Street and Reynolds Avenue intersection with the word ”Tow!” painted on the side. That RV is partially on city property, Denham added. 

He said when it comes to the cost of towing an RV, the majority falls on the towing company, which is one reason why many companies don’t want to tow them. There is a possibility companies can be reimbursed by the state.  

“The statute says if (an RV) gets impounded it has to go to the tow company’s lot so the tow company can get paid through the state by the funds that are provided,” Denham said. 

Even at that, it’s not as simple as the towing company impounding an RV, scrapping it the next day and picking up a check from the state. 

Once an RV is impounded, the company must treat it like any other vehicle, meaning they have to retain the RV for a certain amount of time and try to auction it off first, Denham explained. 

Additionally, other legal hurdles exist. As per Washington state law, before a towing company can impound an RV, whoever the unfortunate landowner is where the RV was abandoned must first attempt to contact the RV’s registered owner for removal, upon receiving the RV owner’s contact information from police. 

The auctions required only further discourage towing companies from impounding RVs. 

“They know they’re not going to be sold at auction, because they’re derelict, old, beat up, and in some cases foul, motorhomes, but they still have to follow the specific procedure which slows down the process,” Denham said. 

The department is currently working on a new procedure using existing laws that could expedite the impound process.

“Right now, we’re trying to see if it fits within the (legal) criteria, because we have right now what I would basically say appear — and I want to emphasize ‘appear’ — to be conflicting RCWs, so we want to make sure we’re using the one that’s not going to land us or anybody else in trouble,” Denham said. 

He added he understands the frustration some Centralia residents are expressing and said his department feels the same frustration, wishing they could take care of the issue faster. 

As for those currently still camping out on the .4-acre parcel in the recently cleared out Blakeslee Junction homeless encampment, Denham said his officers have still been out with the Salvation Army and Recovery Navigators to offer services. 

“We want to make sure we give people every opportunity to comply voluntarily, and get them the treatment we believe they probably need in most cases,” Denham said. “We’re going to reach out one more time next week.” 

Should those remaining still opt not to take the services being offered, Denham said the process has begun to bring legal ramifications down onto those who remain. 

“They have been cited for illegal camping, so the process has begun to be able to get those things done and to hold people accountable for their actions,” Denham said. 

Denham also said despite an appeal being rejected last year, the Grants Pass case — where the City of Grants Pass in Oregon was ordered to stop enforcing a ban prohibiting those experiencing homelessness from sleeping on public property — could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“There’s multiple states that have filed an appeal,” added Denham. 

The main arguments now are the laws governing camping ordinances are too restrictive and lack clarity. With the risk of lawsuits, Denham wants to protest the city from potential legal action. 

“If we, as a city, get sued, that means our community is being sued, because that’s where the money is coming from, and we don’t want to see that happen either,” Denham said. 

To learn more about the Centralia Municipal Code governing camping and parking RVs, visit and read chapters 11.20 and 11.56.