Commissioners, health director discuss homelessness
May 16, 2019
Wahkiakum County commissioners covered a variety of issues at their meeting Tuesday, including how to address the population of homeless persons in the county.
Cape Horn resident Trish Shroyer said she had seen news reports about the controversies the City of Longview has in dealing with homeless persons there.
Is there a problem with homeless people in Wahkiakum County, she asked, and what is local government doing to prepare for an influx of homeless persons.
Commission Chair Dan Cothren said he doesn't favor restrictive ordinances, but he does see homeless people camping outside of Cathlamet.
Timber companies don't allow camping, he said.
There are some campers who seem to have set up residence at Hornstra's Beach by the US Fish and Wildlife refuge, but they're on private property, he said, and it's up to the landowners to control what goes on on their property.
The county has a low population of homeless people, said Chris Bischoff, director of the county's Health and Human Services Department.
In accord with state mandate, the department tries to count homeless people once a year, and the county's homeless population has ranged from five to 12 persons for the past few years.
However, the definition of what makes a person homeless varies among the state agencies, he said. For Health and Human Services, if a person has a roof over their head, they're not homeless, but for schools, the definition is much broader, and a student residing in a friend's house can be counted as homeless.
"We don't have a transient homeless population," he said. "Most homeless people here are from the community. Most likely they have an anchor in the county."
Based on his experience in public health, it's very difficult to write ordinances to control homeless populations, Bischoff said. He predicted that Longview's new ordinance will be challenged in court and that it will probably be overturned.
Bischoff added that he would like to address homeless upstream, that is, providing housing and services that keep people off the street. For example, the county has a committee working to establish affordable housing.
Treasurer Tammy Peterson said she has observed lots of garbage in the Hornstra's Beach area and asked what could be done about it.
Policing and cleaning private property is the responsibility of the owner, Bischoff repeated.
"We don't have a nuisance ordinance that would work on private property," he said. "There are things you can do, but forcing people to move on doesn't fix the problem."
"If you don't move them along, you'll just get stuck with the problem," countered Cothren.
Commissioner Gene Strong commented that burdensome regulations are a knee jerk reaction.
"We need to go at it reasonably," he said.
Regulations increase the bureaucratic load, Bischoff said.
"You write more rules, you need more enforcement," he said. "You're going to give more money for it."