Any debate over homelessness — its prevalence, causes and effects and what to do about it — tends to become emotional quickly.
If you think camps should be cleaned up and occupants should be offered shelter or citations, you’re cruel. If you believe homeless individuals simply need support, whether its drug treatment, housing or food assistance, you risk being called naive.
It’s drugs and mental health struggles. Or perhaps it’s the housing crisis and wage gap.
I believe it’s all of it and more.
We’ve seen Lewis County pass a ban on encampments. Chehalis has outlawed camping in public places within the city. The City of Centralia recently annexed the land where our county’s largest homeless camp exists off of Eckerson Road. I hope Centralia will take action to clear the camp in the future but the city’s intentions are not immediately clear.
Some find the moves by Chehalis and Lewis County to be heavy-handed. I believe not taking action is cruel as well — for residents and business owners as well as homeless individuals suffering in the outdoors.
Regardless of what we all see with our own eyes, there are still many who pretend there is no nexus between homelessness and crime and emergency services, that there is no value in pointing out any ill effects of providing endless services to people who in many cases simply need intervention for substance abuse or criminal behavior.
Facts tell a different story, and the reality is there is an immense strain on our law enforcement, business owners and others looking to preserve the smalltown character of Centralia and other cities like it across the country.
Let’s take a look at one day of reports to the Centralia Police Department:
• 7:22 a.m., March 27, in the 900 block of Harrison Avenue: “Officers were called to check on a homeless male panhandling who appeared to be passed out. When officers arrived the male was walking away.”
• 8:32 a.m., March 27, in the 1100 block of Harrison Avenue: “Officers were called to an ongoing problem of homeless subjects trying to live in the parking lot where employees park.”
• 8:33 a.m., March 27, 500 block of Harrison Avenue: “Officers were called to move along a homeless male who was sleeping in the business owner’s front entrance.”
• 10:37 a.m., March 27, 900 block of Harrison Avenue: “Officers checked the welfare of a homeless male not wearing a shirt doing martial arts on the sidewalk. The male admitted to taking methamphetamines.”
• 11:06 a.m., March 27, 800 block of Harrison Avenue: “Officers were called to check on a homeless male taking off his clothes and laying on the concrete in front of an open business. The manager wanted him moved along to stop scaring the customers.”
• 11:58 a.m., March 27, Harrison Avenue and Interstate 5: “Victor J. Hobbs, 33, transient from Longview, was arrested after running into traffic, blocking a car from going, pounding on the driver’s window, flipping him off and making obscene gestures at him. All of this was unprovoked and occurred in front of an officer. The incident was recorded on the officers in-vehicle camera.”
• 12:06 p.m., March 27, 1000 block of Mellen Street: “A homeowner called police due to a homeless male being in his yard and messing with his water hose. The homeowner wanted the subject moved along.”
• 12:32 p.m., March 27, 700 block of Harrison Avenue: “A property owner requested assistance removing squatters from his newly acquired property. He was advised to go through the proper eviction process.”
• 4:33 p.m., March 27, 1200 block of Mellen Street: “A local business called police to report a homeless male on the property who was being disorderly. The business requested the male be trespassed. The male departed prior to police arrival and was not located.”
• 7:35 p.m., March 27, 100 block of West First Street: “Several citizens called to report an intoxicated transient male who had fallen onto the roadway causing traffic to stop. Officers arrived on scene and requested medical aid for the male, who had fallen onto the roadway due to his level of intoxication. While assisting aid units escort the male to the ambulance, the male became aggressive toward law enforcement, causing him to be taken to the ground where he was detained until safely loaded into the ambulance.”
This is one day. And it’s not just the police who are being strained, as we have seen in recent weeks. The fire that burned the former location of Shari’s and Papa Pete’s was caused by someone who had broken in and sought to stay warm. Then there was the blaze at the Blakeslee Junction camp on Wednesday night. Since the start of 2023, the Riverside Fire Authority has been called to the camp for smoke investigations four times, according to The Chronicle’s reporting. The agency has been to the area for two fires and two medical calls this year.
Do we want our cities to become a place where residents feel perpetually fearful in many of our public spaces? Will we cede territory to lawlessness? Will we continue to call each other naive or cruel based on our individual views on homelessness and how to approach it as a community? Or will we come together to solve the issue?
One day at the Centralia Police Department shows we can’t afford not to act. I applaud the City of Chehalis and Lewis County commissioners for taking action on behalf of taxpayers. I hope Centralia will do the same.
Chad Taylor is publisher of The Chronicle and CT Publishing. He and his wife, Coralee Taylor, are the owners of The Chronicle. They can be reached at email@example.com.