Camp residents have cleared most of the debris from the train tracks near the George Sellar Bridge. Glenn Wilson, the camp's volunteer manager, also helped clear the area and stressed that most of the debris was from individuals outside of the camp.
The camp’s removal paired with the clearing of a camp near Hale Park and the expulsion of motorhomes this week means around 65 homeless people will be faced with finding a new residence, according to Scott Johnson, Wenatchee Rescue Mission’s executive director.
“When this scatters, you’re gonna have problems,” he said. “I’m not sure that everybody wants that. At the end of the day, if you think about it, is there anybody in the city that wants 40 people scattered throughout the city?”
The 72 hours runs out Sunday. When asked about a relocation plan, David Bierschbach, WSDOT North Central region administrator, said agency officials had asked Wenatchee Rescue Mission to assist and that residents will be given pamphlets about local services. The Mission currently has eight open beds for women and 10 to 15 beds for men, Johnson said.
Bierschbach said the decision to evict residents was made after BNSF Railway shared concerns about debris and garbage being thrown onto the tracks by residents of the camp. He added that another factor in the decision to remove the camp was recent damage done to the electrical service box that provides the lighting on the Sellar Bridge.
“By removing this camp, there will not be accumulated debris/trash in proximity to the tracks at this location,” Bierschbach in an email. “We have not observed residents cleaning up the tracks.”
Bierschbach said adjustments will be made to the property to prevent future camps from using it; however, he did not have details on what the adjustments would be. WSDOT is coordinating with the city of Wenatchee, Washington State Patrol and the Wenatchee Police on the camp’s removal.
Residents said although there was debris around the tracks, they have since cleaned it up. At about 3 p.m. Friday, the tracks directly behind the camp were clear. Glenn Wilson, who acts as a volunteer manager for the camp, said he spent most of Wednesday cleaning trash and debris from the tracks and hauling it up to be removed.
“For them to just kick us out after the work we put in down there — I don’t agree with it.” Wilson said. “We’re standing firm; we ain’t going nowhere until they give us housing. I’ve been on a waiting list for 20 months.”
He added that the camp plans on holding a meeting Friday night to discuss how to react to the removal notice, even if staying means being arrested. Wilson and others mentioned they haven’t been able to get into shelters because local ones either don’t accept pets or don’t have spaces for couples.
Chris, who declined to give his last name, and Amanda Tontate have lived in the camp since it sprung up last year. Neither know where they’ll go when the camp is disbanded.
“We have three days to vacate. Most people in a house, they get at least a 30-day vacate notice,” Chris said. “I’ve been half my life homeless, and every time I get established, I get booted out.”
Both Chris and Tontate said they’ve tried to get into housing but don’t have reliable means of communication since their phones have died or been stolen. Most jobs are hard to come by as well, they added.
“A lot of places for jobs, if you say that you’re homeless at the moment, they won’t take you,” Tontate said. “Because you know they think you’re gonna be irresponsible because you’re on the streets — no.”
Chrystel Ortega, who became homeless because she didn’t want her daughter to be on the streets alone, said she has no idea where they’ll go when the 72 hours is up. “I wish we could stay,” she said. “It’s easier here.”
Consequences of removal
Before the camp had permission to stay, Kiera Bobard camped on the property at night and packed up her tent each day after becoming homeless last May following the deaths of her twin daughters.
She said the site is a good spot for the residents and benefits the community at large since the camp residents aren’t spread throughout residential areas. Another benefit of the camp’s current location, she said, is decreased crime and drug use because residents have support from each other.
“Sometimes you’ll move four times in a night. You don’t have a choice, but to stay on drugs…how else are you gonna stay awake to keep moving,” she said, adding that she’s seen a number of residents who struggle with schizophrenia have had fewer episodes while living in the camp because they can sleep at night.
Johnson, the Rescue Mission director, said the camp has allowed local service providers to provide better outreach. So far, about four residents have transitioned off the streets and there’s been a large uptick in people choosing to work with Catholic Charities’ drug team on getting off of medicated drugs, he said.
“I don’t always condone the behaviors and stuff, obviously, but we have a captive audience and we actually are making a difference,” he said. “If it scatters, we’ve lost everything. How are we going to keep up? So we’re gonna start from square one again.”
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