The removal and cleanup of more than 40 homeless campsites along River Road between Tacoma and Puyallup during the last two months has cost Pierce County more than $70,000, a county official says.
That was the bill from two hazardous waste cleanup firms who handled the trash and debris left by people who were living on the south bank of the Puyallup River when social workers and sheriff’s deputies gave them 30 days to vacate, said Tony Fantello, operations and maintenance manager for Pierce County’s surface water management division.
That amount doesn’t include landfill disposal fees that Fantello estimates will total “thousands of dollars more” when the county receives the bill.
Nor does the $70,000 figure include the cost of removing overgrown brush from the riverbank, a job that the county is still doing. County crews have cleared that vegetation from about half the south levy, exposing a riverfront road that had long been covered by growth.
“We’re on phase two of our project,” said Fantello. That phase will include vegetation removal to allow inspection and maintenance of the levy.
In some instances, homeless had dug cave-like shelters into the face of the levy. Those will be filled to prevent erosion during high water.
The costs of the homeless cleanup and vegetation removal will come from the Surface Water Management program’s budget. That program maintains levies and floodplains throughout Pierce County. It is funded in part from real estate taxes.
Homeless campers, some of whom had made the levy their temporary home for two years, were told to leave in July. Thirty days later, social workers and the sheriff’s department began enforcement of that eviction order. By that time, Fantello said, most of the camps had been abandoned. Social workers had been calling on the riverfront dwellers during the time between the notice and the deadline, and had helped some find more permanent quarters.
The county hired the hazardous waste cleanup firms to cart off the remaining debris because some of it contained human waste and drug needles.
Tess Colby, manager of the county’s Community Connections program, said the removal and relocation process proceeded with surprisingly little conflict because of the intervention of the social service workers.
Some of the residents were relocated to a treatment program in Federal Way, others found housing with friends or relatives and others moved to new camping spots. The county doesn’t have an exact accounting of where the 100 or so campers landed, said Colby.
The county since the cleanup began has posted the area with “no camping” signs. Several homeless persons have attempted to re-establish their riverfront campsites, but generally have moved on when contacted by sheriff’s deputies. Two campsites were on the levy during a visit Thursday.
Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter said that city, upstream from the River Road levy, has cleared encampments from the River Trail there.
Some of those homeless have relocated to Washington Department of Transportation land near the intersection of state Route 167 and Meridian, where the old Puyallup River bridge is stored awaiting a new use or scrapping. The police department is talking with the state about moving those campers from that property.
Meanwhile, the City of Puyallup is in the final stages of drafting a new “high impact” business license to set requirements for homeless aid organizations to operate within the city. Residents there have complained about an influx of homeless people, some of whom have stolen their property or taken drugs on the streets in residential areas or in downtown.
The New Hope Resource Center has been the focus of the criticism from residents. That center offers lunch and social service referrals to homeless persons. The city shut down that center last spring because its building didn’t comply with the city’s building code. The center and the associated Freezing Nights program will be affected by the new rules. Freezing Nights churches provide overnight shelter for homeless people during cold and wet weather.