Citizens told the Aberdeen City Council Wednesday night that something has to be done about the homeless, addicts, vagrants, vandals, and mentally ill in Aberdeen’s neighborhoods.
Mayor Bill Simpson talked of the ongoing controversy over funding for a needle exchange program and mentioned a Daily World article on needles and vandalism in the city’s parks. Simpson says he faces similar problems in the alley behind his house.
Council President Kathi Hoder lamented the number of vagrants she sees at her business and mentioned that she carries a pistol. She, like the mayor, claims most of the problem people are from out of town. She said she hadn’t given up but was out of ideas.
Ginger Perdue of Alder Street near Finch Play field had a litany of complaints about the behavior of addicts and vagrants in her neighborhood. She said she won’t take her grandchild to the park because of the needles. Vagrants steal her electricity and charge their phones on her outdoor outlets and fish in a backyard pond died because someone unplugged the pump, she said. People have peered into her bedroom window and there have been break ins, Perdue said. “It’s going to get worse unless something is done.”
She said she carries a pistol and is not afraid to confront them. “Listen, this is a serious problem., Kids are watching … it is awful.” She said she is thinking of packing up and moving.”Enough is enough. Evidently, we are not doing enough to help this situation. … It’s getting worse every year, and now it’s getting worse every day.”
Referring to panhandlers who stand at the Gateway Mall exit, she said she smacked one of them one day when he stuck his head in her car. “I won’t give them any damn money,” she said, because “we all know what they’re doing with that money.”
The Chief of Staff at Grays Harbor Community Hospital and owner of Coastal Women’s Health, Dr. Carey Martens, still clad in a deep blue medical uniform and clogs, took the podium to speak about what he sees near his East 8th Street residence, to and from his coffee stand and at work.
“I want to echo what this nice lady said. I live up on Broadway Hill and when I first got here in 2007 that was a nice place to live. Not anymore. We’ve seen a huge influx in terms of vagrants, meth heads, every kind of undesirable that you see downtown we’ve got up in our neighborhood.
“When I am going back and forth to the hospital at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning. I have to do a figure eight around our neighborhood to make sure that it is safe to get out of my car,” he said. “And make sure nobody else is getting broken into. We’ve had multiple cameras stolen, unfortunately they don’t realize I am taking their picture while they are stealing the camera.
“… Is this the place where I want to have a successful business? Is this the place that I want to raise my children, 6 and 9?” adding that they go to school in Montesano. Going beyond that, he has to consider whether or not to tell prospective doctors who might move to Aberdeen the truth about the quality of life here and the “steep downward turn we have had in our neighborhood.”
When new hires ask him where to buy a house, what is he supposed to tell them, he asked. “Wishkah’s looking good, Montesano” is okay? He said he keeps turning in his photographs and videos to police, who tell him they often know the people in the images. Then the mother of a local addict, in recovery herself, spoke plaintively, asking people to look around and realize that some of the people they reference are of the community, too. “These are our children. These are our nieces and nephews. What can be done? I don’t have that answer. The needle exchange program? We need to do that.” She said she knows of junkies — at least four — who are cleaning up the city. Even they complain about the needles and are afraid to touch them, she said.
Yes, they are in the neighborhoods and under bridges, she said, but “we are kicking them off the streets.”
During and after the meeting, heated discussions ensued about what social and political decisions led to the consequences.
Councilman John Smith, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, noted the complaints seemed to be coming from neighborhoods normally not heard from on the issue. He wondered if the balloon of the city hadn’t been squeezed, meaning that successful programs by Aberdeen police to move the homeless, addicts, vagrants, vandals, and mentally ill off the streets of downtown, may have moved them into other areas of the city. It bears looking into, he thinks.
Robbie Myers, a council candidate in Ward 2, said she was thinking about a suggestion to form Neighborhood Watch groups.
City Attorney Eric Nelson spoke passionately about the lack of beds at Western State Hospital and the availability of inpatient treatment. Even Olympia, he said, often held as a shining example of a city, is building a neighborhood for the homeless, an indication that the problem is everywhere.
After the meeting several clusters of people continued to talk about the issues — whether some of the street people are there because of mental illness or the choices they’ve made in their lives, and about who and what is responsible for the overall problem. There was also concern about the presence of so many guns in town, including those carried into city hall, as is allowed by law.