Cost to seize and clean shelters grows

This story was updated from the print version to include Renton police and Parks staff information.

From January 2018 to this August, the city of Renton has spent $47,577 on seizing temporary shelters, removing unattended items, cleaning and garbage left on public property.

Though the same procedure for seizing and cleaning these areas has been in place since 2013, Renton’s Parks Department believes a combination of more organized approach to cleaning temporary shelters out, and an increase in the number of these shelters, has led to the higher cost. In 2017 for the same amount of time, the city spent $39,146 on cleanup and seizing of property.

In 2017 the city spent $71,854 in total. According to a document from the meeting, these costs include park and police staff hours, city of Renton costs and contracted costs.

In 2017, 52 camps were removed, and this year so far 42 camps have been removed.

The parks department, including Renton Parks and Trails Director Cailín Hunsaker, presented this information at a community service council meeting Monday, Aug. 20 to Renton council committee members.

One thing that was brought up at the committee meeting was that there has been a bigger effort in Renton since south Seattle has recently undergone seizures and cleanups.

“We do not know why camp numbers are higher. One possibility is that the City’s response has been more organized and consistent to identify and remove camps more frequently than before,” Hunsaker said in an email regarding this possibility.

In the presentation, parks employees explained that occupants of temporary shelters have a minimum 48 hours before the shelter is seized and removed.

Renton police department Sgt. Ryan Rutledge said they will usually exceed the two-day notice usually to seven days with a specific time to clear by.

They post notices in Spanish and English, depending on the severity of the camp, as well as hand-delivered written notices offering resources and services people at these shelters can use. Parks employees hope to physically connect people with services, they said at the meeting.

Services and help lines can be found at this link.

Rutledge said parks employees also offer large trash style bags to assist in moving of belongings.

Renton police said they attempt to bring mental health professionals, often from nonprofit Catholic Comm. Services. They also explain to those at the camps that they cannot be present after the listed date or they will be subject to criminal citation or booked for trespass.

Employees said at the meeting that often people living in these encampments are chronically homeless, meaning they are established and don’t want the city’s help.

Renton police department officers accompany parks department employees to these postings. They then can determine if any people at the temporary shelter have warrants out for their arrest. During cleanup, the Renton police officer will also determine if anything at the site has “minimum reasonable doubt” of being valuable, and if so, it is put into police custody for the owner to retrieve.

Renton police department Cmdr. Dave Leibman said it’s up to officer discretion what is considered valuable, taking into consideration what condition the item was left in. If it has value but is covered or in midst of filth it could be considered refuse.

Rutledge said that on the posted date they check if subjects left the site, and if they’re still cleaning or gathering belongings they offer a one-day extension.

“In my experience, each of the camps that we have recently posted have been left with large amounts of garbage, rodents, feces and moisture related decay. Any items of property that I have come across at these recent camps have been broken, left out in the elements or burned by fire,” Rutledge said in an email.

According to the policy, the city cannot destroy unattended or unabandoned personal property, which includes but is not limited to “clothing, shoes, jackets, tents, sleeping bags, bed rolls, blankets, backpacks, duffle bags, bicycles, tools, watches, jewelry, audio and video equipment, medications, medical records, toiletries, eyeglasses, pursues, handbags, personal papers, equipment, photographs, books, baby strollers or carts.”

“If an item of value is observed left at a camp, the Officers on scene will take custody and hold it in our evidence holding facility for 60 days as listed in the posting,” Rutledge said in an email.

In the 2013 policy it said Renton previously received complaints from citizens and businesses regarding the health, safety and welfare of these areas where temporary shelters exist.

Ruth Pérez, member of the committee and Renton city councilmember, said at the meeting that she hadn’t received any emails regarding this problem in years, which she said was really good.

The policy also states the city “expresses its intention to implement these policies in a manner which balances the needs and rights of all its citizens, including the residents of temporary shelters and to recognize the constitutional rights of all its citizens to their attended or unattended or unabandoned personal property and possessions left on public land.”

As of Monday, Aug. 20, parks department employees told the committee they had 14 more sites identified to be cleared.

Bridges are also a factor in this policy. Parks employees said at the meeting that shotcrete has been used under bridges being built to make them uncomfortable. Bridges like the one under the library are cleaned everyday with a biodegradable organic cleaner.

A parks employee at the meeting said uneven surfaces under bridges seemed effective and would be encouraging that construction be done again on other bridge projects and remodels, because it saves the city money from having to seize camps or cleanup waste left underneath bridges.

If residents see tresspassed shelters on public land, they are asked to call the community services department at (425) 430-6600.

Hunsaker said if encampments occur on private or commercial properties within city of Renton, residents can contact the Code Enforcement 24-hour reporting hotline, 425-430-7373 for cleanup assistance, or by visting the code compliance website.

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