The first three quarters of 2019 showed a decrease in the number of camps in city parks that were seized and cleaned by city of Renton, to 30. In 2017, police and parks department staff removed 52 camps; In the first half of 2018, the city removed 42 camps.
The Renton City Council received an update on “homeless trends and police efforts” at the Dec. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting, that detailed officers interacting with Renton’s folks who are homeless, what resources are available to them, and how many people who are chronically homeless live in the city.
Police Chief Ed VanValey told council the police department has had an increase in residents calling for welfare checks on people that are homeless. Calls reporting theft, property crimes and assaults at the campsites between folks living there have also gone up, he said.
In the last three years, 20 of the 551 people who died, that King County Medical Examiner identified as homeless, were in Renton, and two were homicides.
“We aren’t immune from some of those things,” VanValey said.
The police department is trying to balance the rights of folks who are homeless with the demands from public calling 911, VanValey told council at the meeting. He also discussed the misdemeanor presence rule, which he said makes it difficult to arrest someone for littering, defecating and/or using drugs unless they catch them in the act. The police department has made one arrest at a campsite in the last three years, which VanValey said was related to someone who wouldn’t leave the site after they posted no trespassing signs.
The Black River Riparian Forest and Cedar River natural area contain the highest number of encampments on city property. For the first nine months, the city has removed approximately 30 encampments, which is down from the last few years. This year, the staff time and cleanup costs have totaled around $55,000. Cleanups are handled through a contractor, Servpro.
The police department handles notices of trespass for city properties, and approved private properties such as Puget Sound Energy or Burlington Northern sites. Police and parks staff start by posting 72-hour notices to vacate, but VanValey says they often give them several more days so folks can gather their belongings. Then parks, police and Servpro cleanup and throw away all remaining items. Private properties are cleaned at the owner’s expense.
VanValey detailed the hazardous waste that is sometimes cleaned up during encampment sweeps, and the status of the folks who they find when handing out trespass notices. Police and parks staff often bring Catholic Community Services with them, to offer resources and give flyers and cards to the folks who were living at the encampment. The city also just partnered with Evergreen Treatment Services, to offer treatment addiction for opioid use disorders.
Officers report that the resources offered, which do require folks to meet with Catholic Community Services or other services in the following days, are rarely accepted.
Councilmember Ryan McIrvin asked if there was a way for them to receive quicker services then the next day. Community Services Administrator Kelly Beymer said they have been starting to get more proactive with homeless resource fairs, and that the trespass notices also list different services available.
“It’s fortunate our community has really stepped forward to help people find housing, shelter, food and basic needs,” Mayor Denis Law said at the Dec. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Beymer also told city council about the homeless resource community events— which as of 2020 will be every third Wednesday at the downtown Renton library— allows for immediate services, including flu shots.
The resource fair jumped from 14 attendees to 47 in it’s second event, and has remained steady in attendees since then. This is high given they estimated about 50 people are chronically homeless in Renton, not in support services or shelters.
“It’s really proactive and popular,” Beymer said.
Councilmember Valerie O’Halloran asked VanValey how often officers are in contact with people dealing with chronic homelessness in Renton. He said they don’t often, unless called in for a welfare check, but officers know for the most part where folks are located.
The next Homeless Community Resource Event will be Jan. 15, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.