Homeless people wait for help | North West

It was the Saturday before Christmas when Michelle King ran into a homeless man sleeping between two back entrances to the furniture store she owns with her husband in downtown Lewiston.

The outdoor alcove where the company’s trash is located provided some respite from the wind and near-freezing temperatures.

Her husband gave her a bottle of water and a blanket and did not call the police. Weak and lonely, he didn’t seem to pose a threat. They never saw him again.

And as those familiar with the homelessness problem in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley know, public properties that offer some semblance of protection from the cold are one of the only resources the area offers homeless people.

A few months later, King met a woman when she stopped by the Lewiston Youth Resource Center, where teens can spend the night when they have nowhere to go.

Once again, it was very cold outside and the woman was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and a scarf. For reasons the woman did not share, she had nowhere to stay.

Unable to offer her a bed because she was too old for the center, King, one of the founders of the center, sent her to a laundromat with lodgings.

If the woman put her scarf in a dryer overnight, she would be allowed to stay with the business because she would be a customer.

The man and woman, according to King and other homeless advocates, are part of a growing and increasingly visible population of homeless people living in their cars, on the streets and on public lands in the country. north-central Idaho and southeastern Washington.

Their predicament motivates efforts to establish safe places where they can stay in Lewiston until they can find permanent accommodation.

A 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lists the homeless population of north-central Idaho at 164, including 106 who did not have a roof over their heads. In 2016, the same study found 119 homeless, including 40 homeless, according to supporters of the Union Gospel Mission’s efforts to establish a homeless shelter in Lewiston.

As the numbers increase, the issues related to the homeless population become more and more complex.

Passengers camp on Army Corps of Engineers land and are “particularly concentrated” in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley along the Clearwater and Snake River recreational trails on both sides of the river, according to a Corps statement. on the homeless problem.

Public restroom and park hours have been reduced.

“We have seen an increase in vandalism, including graffiti, damage to toilets, landscape and signs, increased accumulation of garbage and personal effects,” according to the Corps. “It has a huge impact on the time and tasks of our staff by redirecting time and resources to resolve these issues and keep the areas safe and enjoyable for our visitors. “

Clarkston City employees face similar issues in their parks. The city ends a lease Feb. 23 with the Corps for Gateway Park near the Interstate Bridge via Taco Time and the northeast entrance to the city.

The park is closed until further notice while city workers remove improvements such as picnic tables, work required by its agreement with the Corps before the land is returned to it.

“Officials (from the city) cited a presence of homeless people in the park area, as well as needles, debris, human excrement, etc., and determined that this presented liability issues for the city. “, according to the Corps.

A federal 9th ​​Circuit Court of Appeal ruling requires the city to allow homeless people to camp on any public property if no low-threshold shelter is available, leaving the city few options, a said Kevin Poole, director of public works for Clarkston.

City workers were picking up Gateway Park’s trash on a regular schedule, sometimes needing a garbage truck for the task on Monday as much had accumulated over the weekend, Poole said.

The annual cost of maintaining Gateway, which does not have a bathroom, was around $ 15,000 two years ago and now stands at around $ 23,000, Poole said.

That number would likely continue to rise if the city did not return the park to the Corps, he said.

In the past two months, the city has closed restrooms in the three city parks that have them – Beachview, Arnold and Foster parks – due to vandalism by minors and homeless people sleeping there. at night, he said.

They will only be reopened in the spring. This option is available in part because the rules that allow homeless people to stay on public land do not extend to structures, Poole said.

The city will also upgrade security cameras in its parks instead of planting trees and applying fertilizers, he said.

The Corps’ approach differs. Its employees chat with people passing through its properties, reminding them that no one is allowed to camp for more than 14 days in a period of 30 consecutive days in a project area.

So someone, for example, who has camped for 14 days at Wawawai Landing cannot camp anywhere else in the Lower Granite Dam project area which stretches from the dam upstream to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley on the Snake and Clearwater rivers.

Corps officials also encourage the public to alert its staff of homeless camps in remote or unusual locations; he is already aware of those in obvious places.

“We ask the public to be patient with us as we continue to deploy the appropriate resources to help these people find appropriate options,” the Corps statement said.

It’s not entirely clear why more and more homeless people are showing up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.

But it could be a combination of challenges that area residents face, as well as weak economies in other parts of the country, according to King and Lewiston Salvation Army Lt. David Aycock.

The most recent assessment of the working poor by Twin County United Way found that 70% of households headed by single mothers were at one salary to live in their vehicle, King said.

“It’s a very thin line between owning a car and a house and being on the streets,” Aycock said.

With three manufacturers, Lewiston has become known as far away as Florida as a place where people can get jobs for a living wage, Aycock said.

Often newcomers find a job, but perhaps not a place to live, and hide their homelessness from their co-workers, he said.

They left a more expensive place like Seattle and came here because they heard that housing is cheaper, then find that even though the prices are lower, they are still too high for them, he said. he declares.

“For the most part, a family member fell ill and was unable to continue working or lost their job,” Aycock said. “The majority of them want to find a more lasting and stable situation. I don’t think anyone really enjoys living in their vehicle with all of their possessions. “

What Corps staff, Poole, King, and Aycock observed is to spur efforts to create two distinct options for the homeless that would serve different populations.

King is a member of the board of directors of the LC Valley Adult Resource Center, a group that will introduce a 20-bed temporary overnight shelter later this month at the Salvation Army location at 1220 21st St. in Lewiston in part of a cafeteria.

The center would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily and would be accessible to men, women and children until the end of March.

At the same time, Union Gospel Mission seeks to create an emergency refuge for men, women and children with a greater reception capacity.

“We were invited and invited to come to the valley because the need was not met,” said Phil Altmeyer, executive director of ministries at the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane. “Frankly, a lot of these people ended up at (Union Gospel Mission shelters) Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

This facility is moving forward as Lewiston City Council prepares to approve an ordinance that would lift the 50-bed limit on homeless shelters.

But the shelter, which would be built off Snake River Avenue, is more than a year from opening and details such as number of beds and square footage are still being worked out.

The deadlines aren’t the only differences between the two installations. The LC Valley Adult Resource Center will fill its spaces on a first come, first served basis, prioritizing those whose most recent addresses were in Nez Perce or Asotin counties, and will not serve any meals.

“It’s a bed, a toilet and a cup of coffee,” King said.

It would be considered a low barrier shelter, accepting all those who do not pose a threat to themselves or to others. Although drug and alcohol use is prohibited at the center, individuals do not need to be sober to stay there.

Everyone will sleep in the same area on cots where the lights will be left on all night. Two security personnel trained in how to respond to people with mental health issues will stay awake through the night and monitor the room, she said.

In the morning, individuals take all their belongings with them.

“All we do is make sure people don’t freeze to death in an addiction,” said Gabe Iacoboni, chair of the board of directors of LC Valley Adult Resource Center.

Finally, the LC Valley Adult Resource Center Board of Directors would like to move to a permanent location.

This expansion would allow them to provide more space as well as limited amenities like showers, laundry facilities and an address they could use for job applications.

The latter is important because documents employers must submit to the Labor Department with any new hire require an address, King said.

In contrast, the assistance Union Gospel Mission will provide would be more like a temporary home.

Those who do not use drugs or alcohol would be allowed to stay at the center for days or weeks at a stretch in the same bed each night and would have room for their personal belongings. Each family would be assigned a room.

Single men and women would be separated by sex and live in dormitory-style rooms. All residents are expected to participate in a drug testing program, perform household chores, and attend chapel services daily.

Structured activities, including three meals a day, would be offered to help residents find accommodation and overcome barriers, such as trauma from domestic violence or drug addiction, that prevent them from finding employment.

Union Gospel Mission, noted Altmeyer, has a track record of success in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area. In the past five years, more than 200 people per year who completed the UGM program entered the workforce after being out of work, he said.

Whatever form solutions take, homeless advocates want these solutions to be available as quickly as possible.

“Unless we do something, the problem is going to get worse,” said Iacoboni. “It’s not going to improve organically.”

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