First, we appreciate the message. The community can strengthen its already strong support of programs for the homeless and destitute. The operators of the PowerHouse Ministry Center at 30 N. Wenatchee Ave., in serving the least among us, help show the scope of the problem in Wenatchee may be greater than we imagined.
It’s just that they do it in the wrong place.
That is not easy to say. No one wants to shut down an operation that does good for people who genuinely need help and compassion, but there is an inescapable issue of incompatibility. Drawing the homeless to a storefront on Wenatchee Avenue, many with substance abuse or mental health difficulties, and offering aid in a relatively unstructured environment will bring inevitable conflicts. Downtown is a center for commerce, services and entertainment. Its businesses must attract customers to survive. Anything that makes customers uncomfortable or fearful or produces an unpleasant experience will be a major detriment to all downtown businesses. It should be easy to see how a drop-in homeless center will create problems, and eventually interrupt that crucial flow of customers, to create unwanted reputations and bad word-of-mouth. It does not take much to do great harm, especially when the businesses themselves are struggling against the economic odds and well-heeled big box competition. Downtown Wenatchee is a center for independent business caught in a day-to-day battle for customers lured by retail goliaths with vastly greater resources and far less concern for their neighbors and community. This is an asset we need to protect.
The stories of conflict are real — homeless sleeping on sidewalks, in alleys, loitering, smoking near restaurant doors, fighting, yellng, urinating in and outside businesses, etc. Police report additional troubles. Downtown business owners have complained and sought city action. The city says it is probably preferable not to rewrite downtown zoning to exclude services to the homeless, but to beef up city anti-nuisance statutes. The operators of PowerHouse Ministry Center say they have searched for other locations and failed.
This is not a story of heartless businesses casting out the downtrodden. More structured services for the homeless operate with substantial community support only a block away, at The Bruce, or for youth at Solomon’s Porch on Mission Street. We can testify from experience that the residents of The Bruce have been very good neighbors. The Bruce serves children, families and adults in a clean environment, and we welcome them. They belong in that location.
Somewhere, there must be a place suited to PowerHouse Ministry Center, perhaps not far from where it is now. But, a commercial district at the heart of the city is not that place.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.