Two Seaside volunteer groups met at City Hall this month with Seaside’s homeless problem in mind. The Seaside Homeless Task Force and the Seaside Think Tank met in separate sessions, hearing officials, business leaders and homeless advocates to address a growing need.
The city has until 2023 to bring the city’s code into sync with state laws, adjusting to legislation that decriminalizes camping or loitering on city property and provides a 72-hour window before enforcement. A person experiencing homelessness may also sue to challenge the objective reasonableness of a city or county law, and be awarded attorney fees if they prevail.
Police need the ability to offer a shelter or location for the homeless to go before they can take action, Police Chief Dave Ham said. “We need a place to say, ‘This is where you can go.’”
Along with the two county liaisons already designated, police need to have an ongoing point person to interact with the homeless, he said, whether the community service officer or other contact.
Over 1,000 people are homeless in Clatsop County, Viviana Matthews, Clatsop Community Action’s executive director, said in July. About 35% to 40% of homeless services in the county are focused in Seaside.
Addressing mental health issues, documentation for people without a permanent address and transportation are among top goals, she said at the task force session.
“We need a drop-in center and Seaside, we need a warming center, we need low-barrier shelter,” Matthews said. “We need a shelter. We need a lot of different things but mainly, probably a drop-in center in South County would be helpful. The unsheltered population needs a place to go and do their laundry, to charge their cell phones, that’s what a drop in center is.”
Without the ability to offer full solutions, Matthews said, at the point, it’s important to focus on those who can be and are willing to be helped.
“Right now, you know, you aren’t putting out services and you don’t have the strategies yet,” Matthews said. “So rather than design your approach for kind of the outliers, to really be focusing on serving those who you will reach.”
Hotelier Masudur Khan of Seaside Lodging LLC described the impact of homelessness on tourism, and asked for direction for the city. “I think it’s a big problem for all of our hotels,” Khan said.
Homeless advocate Seamus McVey called for a change in the way that homeless are viewed in the community. “Not everybody is what they see on the outside. The way people who are housed see the unhoused is also often not as the person that they are as the individual that they are,” he said. “This is who I am now. This is who I hope to be. I’m a person.”
McVey suggested a set of interactive sessions where homeless and formerly homeless can engage in an individual basis in a group. “You need to be able to access all of the information that’s available about all these different options.”
Mayor Jay Barber made a plea for patience, from both homeowners and businesses concerned about the impacts of homelessness, and those who are without shelter and living on the streets.
“The city task force meeting is working on these issues,” Barber said. “It takes time to come to a consensus, and it takes time to bring about change, and we’re working on it, and a lot of good things are happening. I know it seems like forever but we’ve been working on this, but there’s a lot yet to be done.”
Montero recognized the challenges ahead. “If you bite off more than you can chew, you won’t be successful at all. But if you pick and choose where you can be successful, then you can move forward and then you can have those stories to tell the community. This is what we’ve done. And this is how we’ve been successful. And you, the community, have been successful. In my mind, this is probably the thorniest, most difficult, most multifaceted issue I have ever dealt with.”