Last week, the city introduced a revised set of procedures for the removal of camps on city property. These procedures govern such things as identification of camps to be cleared, notification of campers and storage of their belongings after a camp has been cleared. City workers got an opportunity to flex these new policies last week as they cleared – for the second time – the camp along the Burke Gilman Trail. More on that later.
Wallingford is among perhaps a dozen or so neighborhoods in the city unwittingly playing “host” to homeless campers. Issues arising from this camping have been the subject of much discussion in the forums here on wallyhood, and a number of articles have appeared here. I recently wrote an article about the eviction of campers along the BGT and their subsequent return. Given the level of concern and interest, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the main points of this revised policy.
The guidelines give criteria to be used by city workers to prioritize camps for removal. These criteria are (in no particular order):
- objective hazards such as moving vehicles and steep slopes;
- criminal activity beyond illegal substance abuse;
- quantities of garbage, debris, or waste;
- other active health hazards to occupants or the surrounding neighborhood;
- difficulty in extending emergency services to the site;
- imminent work scheduled at the site for which the encampment will pose an obstruction;
- damage to the natural environment of environmentally critical areas; and
- the proximity of homeless individuals to uses of special concern including schools or facilities for the elderly
While these criteria protect the campers and workers removing them and address neighbors’ concerns about trash and illegal activity, I was surprised that citizen complaints don’t factor into whether a camp is high priority for removal or not.
The guidelines also provide for a special class of encampments known as Emphasis Areas. The city defines these areas as “… places where an encampment has become a consistent problem,” and further says, “…the area shall be inspected by the City at least once each day. The area shall be signed, and may be fenced.” A map of current Emphasis Areas reveals that most are located under I-5 (the areas known as The Jungle), but none are in Wallingford.
The revised policy delves into the details of conducting a camp removal. At least 72 hours of advance notice must be given to campers by means of a posting in English and Spanish as well as “any other language the City determines would further the purpose of the notice.” Oral notice must also be given if reasonably possible, and an outreach worker must visit the site prior to clean up. It is during the outreach visit, presumably, that the campers must be advised of alternative shelter or legal camping areas that are available to them. Provision must be made for the storage of campers’ property, and notices must be posted to advise them of how to reclaim that property.
With these new rules in hand, city workers moved in to clear the camp along the Burke Gilman last week. Reports on camp clearings, including the BGT clearing, are posted here. In reading through the BGT report, I was surprised to note that there were as many as 5 tents all apparently owned by a single person. As you can see from the photos, quite a few syringes were found in one of the tents while some sort of ammunition was recovered from another. To discourage further camping, workers pruned all the lower branches of the trees — a tactic that they have used elsewhere — although in this case, the pruning was pretty severe. It’s a shame, but it seems as though we’re having to decide between illegal camping and trees in some cases. The camp occupant was offered and accepted transitional housing (or perhaps I should say transitional “housing”) at an authorized encampment at Licton Springs (8620 Nesbit Ave N).