EAST WENATCHEE — The Douglas County Solid Waste Department is not removing any active homeless camps from along the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail, the agency director says.
The department does plan to eventually remove those camps, but not until they have a place for the homeless to go, said Becci Piepel, Douglas County Solid Waste director. At the moment, the county is working on cleaning up the inactive camps. But they still post 72-hour notices in case anyone is using them.
“When you come across an active camp, you will see tents or you will see tarps that are in a lean-to,” Piepel said. “Those are the active camps.”
The reason to clean up the camps is because of the sanitary and health risks posed by the encampments, she said. There are well-maintained homeless camps that do not interfere with people using the Loop Trail, she said, but there are also aggressive and violent campers.
“There are some camps that the authorities get called on multiple times a week because of the aggressive violent nature,” Piepel said. “It is not just violence inside the camp. It is violence to people on the Loop Trail.”
The county may wait until after the pandemic to start removing active camps, if it cannot locate places for people to go, she said. They believe there is sufficient room at a number of shelters for people to stay, but people don’t want to use them for various reasons.
Many shelters do have restrictions, like requiring people to be clean and sober. Also the number of rooms available for people with disabilities is limited in the Wenatchee Valley and there can be restrictions based on criminal background.
The Chelan-Douglas Homeless Task Force has been working toward creating a low-barrier shelter the homeless can access, but that is still in the process, said Glen DeVries, community development director for Wenatchee.
One person has been living in a camp along The Douglas County sid of the Loop Trail for close to 20 years and passersby don’t notice it from the river or the trail, Piepel said. The county and the property owners don’t plan to disturb that individual.
The end goal, though, is to have no camps along the Loop Trail and to monitor the trail to prevent future camps, Piepel said.
There are about 47 camps between the Odabashian Bridge and Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park, both active and inactive now, she said. The reason for the number of abandoned camps has to do with the transient nature of some of the occupants, as well as other factors.
“Some of them might have actually gone to a shelter,” Piepel said. “Some of them had been arrested and some of them had moved on, because some of them don’t want to stay in one specific location.”
While cleaning up the camps, the county does store personal belongings and post notices of where they can be found or who to contact, she said. Personal belongings could include sleepings bags that are dry and not soiled, glasses, medication, working stoves and more.
While cleaning up the camps, county employees are also finding multiple crack pipes, marijuana pipes and needles, Piepel said. There are also a considerable number of rats feeding off the garbage in the camps.
The overall goal of the cleanup is to improve the safety of the people using the trail and reduce conflicts, she said.
“Every worker that is working on this program, they’ve had to sign a respect and professionalism paperwork that we treat everyone we come into contact with the utmost kindness and respect,” Piepel said.