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‘Law enforcement is not the solution’ to homelessness — but what is?

WENATCHEE — When it comes to homelessness, arresting people is typically a last resort for the Wenatchee Police Department.

Whether it’s drug addiction, mental health or something else, Police Chief Steve Crown believes connecting people with resources to improve their situation should be the first priority.

“You’ll hear this saying a lot in the industry: that homelessness is not in and of itself against the law,” he said. “It’s the behaviors that are associated with and the criminal acts that may be a byproduct. If there’s drug dealing, of course we’re going to deal with that. If there’s public safety issues, of course that falls into our purview. But as far as the solution to it, law enforcement is not the solution. Putting people in jail is not the solution. It’s working closely with your mental health providers, service providers.”

But not everyone is willing to take advantage of those resources, and they may continue violating the law despite warnings. In those cases, Crown said, a citation or arrest may be the only option.

“Some of these folks are chronically homeless,” he said. “They’ve been homeless for years, and it is a lifestyle, a social way of being for them. They don’t really see themselves doing anything different, and that’s where I think a lot of frustration comes from, from any entity that’s trying to address the homeless issue. There’s nothing more frustrating for law enforcement to go to those calls for service and have somebody tell them, ‘No, I don’t want your help. This is the way I live.’”

Police on Monday afternoon arrested a 42-year-old man on suspicion of maintaining a public nuisance, a misdemeanor city code violation. He had collected vehicles and other items, which were spread around the area where he lived along Worthen Street.

The man was booked into the Chelan County Regional Justice Center but was no longer listed there by Tuesday afternoon.

In 2018, a federal court of appeals in Boise, Idaho, ruled that homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside if there are no adequate alternatives. This year, a state court of appeals applied the Homestead Act to say a city cannot withhold a vehicle under the threat of forced sale if it’s the person’s primary residence.

However, Mayor Frank Kuntz said city attorneys determined Monday’s actions were legal. Those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The man’s belongings were stored on city property for him to eventually reclaim, Kuntz said. A similar situation occurred with the same man last year in a different location, he said.

Crown said officers usually give multiple warnings and suggestions before taking law enforcement action, but the man’s situation persisted.

“This is beyond just simply parking on the side of the road, and it became something that was a public health, public safety issue from the standpoint that people can’t get around the mass of accumulation,” Crown said. “And also the unsanitary condition of things (like) molding food. From what I understand, there was even some human waste there mixed into that stuff. That’s really where the line gets drawn.”

There have been times the city has had to clean sidewalks or roads, even towing vehicles so they could get to an area, he said.

For Kuntz, Monday’s incident was part of an ongoing issue with people experiencing homelessness — from urinating in the fountain downtown to breaking sprinklers and damaging restrooms at city parks to using drugs. He and Crown both worry about the effects homelessness could have on local businesses and residents’ quality of life.

Kuntz has received anecdotal reports of homeless people from other parts of the state taking the bus to Wenatchee for services like soup kitchens. He specifically blames Lighthouse Christian Ministries for exacerbating the problem.

“You can pretty much go down there with your own eyes and watch what’s going on,” he said. “They’re all getting fed. They’re here because Lighthouse is here. Are we supposed to be the homeless shelter for the entire state? What are we doing here? They’re all coming over because they get really good treatment from the folks at Lighthouse. And they know the Boise case and they know they can sleep on the sidewalks and they know they can do all the stuff that they’re doing.”

Chelan and Douglas counties and the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are applying jointly for a state Department of Commerce grant for planning a regional low-barrier homeless shelter.

Low-barrier housing programs accept homeless people without the fees and restrictions of other shelters, and also connect them with service providers and resources.

A report from a Seattle-based consultant showed it would cost about $1.2 million annually to staff such a shelter, though the amount would likely be lower for a smaller, more rural area like Chelan and Douglas counties.

Kuntz said a permanent shelter not only would be costly to maintain but also wouldn’t help the situation much.

“If we buy a 20-person low-barrier shelter, is that going to do any good?” he questioned. “We get 20 people, we take them off the sidewalk and put them in the shelter. What are they going to do? They’re going to say no. The people that are homeless in downtown Wenatchee aren’t interested in shelters. What they want is two meals a day, and they get them from the Lighthouse, and they want to go do what they want to go do.”

Government-funded organizations serving people in housing crises must use a coordinated entry system to check in those using their programs. Being a religious ministry, Lighthouse doesn’t face that requirement.

“We love the city of Wenatchee,” Lighthouse Director Shawn Arington said in a text message. “The gentleman that was arrested was removed from our services years ago due to illegal activity we could not control. He refused our help when we tried.”

He did not comment further or return a reporter’s calls.

In the case of the man who police arrested Monday, Catholic Charities has been notified of his situation in case he decides to pursue mental health services, Crown said, but he can’t be forced to seek help unless he becomes a threat to himself or others.

To Crown, a discussion on homelessness must also include mental health. Dealing with those cases puts a drain on the police department’s resources, he said.

“It falls back, somehow, to the police to deal with even though we’re woefully under-resourced to really deal with those,” he said. “We do not have the facilities. We do not have the mental health background. We don’t necessarily have the tools to really address the situation, but we are the ones that receive the massive amounts of complaints about these folks. We can deal with some of the symptoms, we can deal with the criminal behavior that’s exhibited, but it’s certainly not addressing the issue holistically.”

Gingko leaves were collected at Wenatchee Valley College for use in a Smithsonian carbon dioxide study.

Wenatchee Valley College's gingko tree grows on the east side of Sexton Hall off of Ninth Street on Tuesday. The college earned the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree Campus USA title partly for the collection of leaves from this tree used in a nationwide Smithsonian research project that  compared them to fossilized samples. The information will help climate scientists learn more about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. WVC is one of two community colleges in Eastern Washington to receive the 2019 Tree Campus USA honor. To earn the award, the college also was recognized for forming a faculty student community committee, developing a tree care plan, recording campus tree management costs, and holding an Arbor Day event.

Insects and cryptocurrency meet to provide a sustainable animal food source in Cashmere

CASHMERE — A former apple juice factory in Cashmere will soon be home to a mealworm farm heated by cryptocurrency computers.

Seattle startup Beta Hatch is building a 40,000-square-foot production space in the former Tree Top facility to raise mealworms, a variety of beetle larva. The mealworms are dried and sold as a sustainable food source for poultry, fish and other livestock.

The company has been planning a move to Cashmere for more than a year and in 2019 won the top prize at at GWATA’s Flywheel Investment Conference. After a few pandemic-related delays, Beta Hatch held a ceremonial groundbreaking last Wednesday and plans to begin construction within a few weeks.

“We’re just excited to get the project underway and continue to grow the business,” CEO and Founder Virginia Emery said. “It’s a hard time for any kind of business, but the great thing about the food business is that everyone needs to eat so we’ve stayed open and active. And we’re continuing to grow despite the challenges.”

Virginia Emery

Founder and CEO of Beta Hatch

Their new building was home to Tree Top for 50 years until operations stopped in 2008. First Beta Hatch will build a smaller “ramp-up” production area in the space to raise their tiny livestock while the full-scale operation is built out. That’s expected to be operational by November.

World photo/Reilly Kneedler 

Mealworms, a type of beetle larva, are dried and used to feed poultry, fish and other livestock.

“It allows us to scale the biology, because we can’t just buy the billions of bugs that we need. We have to grow them. So it allows us to account for the generation time,” Emery said.

When the full production space is done, the facility will produce around a ton of mealworms a day for distribution. But its primary output will be eggs — billions of them every day.

“This facility is an interesting one because we have a hub and spoke model. So the hub is the hatchery where you produce the eggs and the spoke is the ranch where you grow the product,” Emery said. “This facility will operate as a bit of a hybrid.”

Beta Hatch is also looking for locations for those ranches, including in states like Idaho, Iowa or California, where they could be located near agricultural partners.

“We’d love to have some ranches here, we could see adding capacity right here in Cashmere or somewhere else in Wenatchee,” Emery said. “But the beauty of the model is we can send eggs anywhere in the country.”

Beta Hatch’s Cashmere facility will be the largest of its kind in North America, Emery said.

World photo/Reilly Kneedler 

Beta Hatch CEO Virginia Emery, center, held a ceremonial groundbreaking last Wednesday with officials from the city of Cashmere, U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, and Malachi Salcido, whose next-door cryptocurrency mine will provide heat for the operation. The facility will raise mealworms, a type of beetle larva, for use in animal feed.

“There are other facilities that grow mealworms for exotic animals but we’re the first to really focus on that commercial animal feed market with these bugs,” she said.

She hopes they’ll provide a more sustainable alternative to many of the ingredients currently used in the commercial animal feed market.

“So, trying to look at the existing ingredients we have in animal diets that aren’t very sustainable, are very expensive, that have supply chains that rely on a lot of import or are susceptible to climate — those are the kinds of ingredients that we can be replacing,” she said.

One possible target in North Central Washington is fish hatcheries, Emery said.

“We’ve done tests where every growth stage of the fish has happily eaten a mealworm diet,” she said. “So we see a lot of opportunity in multiple species and multiple growth stages of the fish.”

Beta Hatch is also looking to provide sustainability in its mealworm growing process. Part of the insects’ diet will likely be leftovers from Crunch Pak’s production facility, which is just a mile away.

“Crunch Pak is right here down the road, probably as short as you can get as far as transportation of a food stock,” Emery said. “There’s plenty of perfectly good apple material that comes off their food line that they can’t use. They have actually a very good program for getting those food stocks out to other food manufactures, people make cider and dried apples and other products with it, and so we would take a small piece of that for feeding our bugs.”

Its quest for sustainability also brought Beta Hatch to Malachi Salcido, who runs a cryptocurrency mine in the other half of the former Tree Top building.

His cryptocurrency mining computers generate a significant amount of heat, which is currently exhausted out of the building using massive fans. Instead, some of that heat would be rerouted to Beta Hatch’s production and growing rooms, which require around 78-degree temperatures and 70% humidity.

“So for it to be warm and really humid takes a lot of heat energy,” Salcido said. “So one of the purposes of waste heat will be to boost the temperature part-way up the temperature and humidity hill. Then all of the mechanical systems don’t have to start from ambient.”

Salcido operates several other cryptocurrency and data centers in North Central Washington, but this is the first of its kind utilizing heat recapture. But the model could be useful for other agricultural industries, including cannabis farms, he said.

“This kind of heat output recapture, we think there are going to be more kinds of applications for this. We expect to see and possibly be involved in heat recapture for cannabis grows, because cannabis needs to be as humid as possible without growing mold,” he said.

Child care services available in NCW

NCW — Parents and families should be able to find child care this upcoming school year, despite challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Child Care Aware of Washington, more than 500,000 Washington children do not have access to child care, but in North Central Washington that is a different story.

According to the organization, there are many child care openings in North Central Washington:

  • Okanogan County: 83 vacancies
  • Chelan County: 342
  • Douglas County: 159
  • Grant County: 448

In Chelan and Douglas counties, there are about 166 child-care programs as of Dec. 31, 2019, according to the organization. Of those 166 programs, eight have closed in Chelan County, four in Douglas County, nine in Grant and four in Okanogan County, since March.

A lot of those closures are temporary, due to one of the kids contracting COVID-19 or not enough children being signed up to support the business, because parents are keeping them at home, said Marcia Jacobs, Child Care of Washington communications and marketing manager. The biggest challenge for families will be finding care centers for infants.

While child care is available, there are areas within counties where it might be difficult or next to impossible to find services, Jacobs said. It depends on where you live and the age of the child.

Child Care Aware, a national child care advocacy organization, can help families try to find a spot for their children and they have a free resource line at 1-800-446-1114, Jacobs said.

The Wenatchee School District is partnering with the Wenatchee Valley YMCA to provide care for about 60 children during the upcoming school year, said Diana Haglund, Wenatchee School District spokesperson.

The school district is offering YMCA staff the use of three of its elementary schools — Mission View, Columbia and Sunnyslope — to hold daycare services during the pandemic, she said.

“So it will be pretty tightly regulated by the YMCA staff, so all the typical mitigating strategies, masks, temperature checks — all of those things will be in place,” Haglund said. “Very similar if not identical to what they did in the spring for essential workers.”

The YMCA is also providing child care at Alpine Lakes Elementary School for the Leavenworth-based Cascade School District, said Brogan Foster, YMCA director of child care services.

The Eastmont School District decided not to partner with the YMCA, but may restart the program later, said Spencer Taylor, the district’s executive director of elementary education. A local church may also provide the district access to its building for child care services.

The YMCA is not making any money on this service; they are providing it at cost for $780 per child a month, Foster said. Two days into the program, which started on Aug. 31, they still have 100 spots out of 160 available for kids.

“We grow incrementally every month, so we’ve already had about probably five or six more registrations just at the end of last week,” she said, “as people figure out that it is really difficult to school their kids at home or make that hard decision.”

The YMCA does accept child care subsidies through the Working Connections Child Care program offered by the state Department of Social and Health Services, Foster said. People can find out if they qualify for child care subsidies at washington

Some parents are also considering providing their own form of child care services by partnering together, Haglund said. Parents would volunteer their time in a co-op style format, but the main problem they faced was getting the proper licensing, she said.