Neighbors concerned over growing “Tent City”

Neighbors concerned over growing “Tent City”

YAKIMA, WA — It’s a sight neighbors are calling “Tent City.” A row of camping gear, lawn chairs, shopping carts can be seen at the corner of 6th Street and East Chestnut.

Many guests there are homeless, some claim otherwise — and neighbors we spoke to who asked to remain anonymous, say it’s becoming more and more dangerous as the “Tent City” continues to grow.

“Literally naked people laying out on the sidewalk, drug deals going on right in front of your face,” said one neighbor.

“My husband can’t even walk to the store down there because he’s threatened all the time, he’s been assaulted twice,” said another neighbor.

Neighbors say it’s become so bad, they’ve caught campers sneaking onto their property, doing drugs, and using it to relieve themselves. And when police and code enforcement are called out to remove the campers — they hear the same message.

“They had permission to be there, and they couldn’t make them leave,” added a neighbor, “Safety went out the window about six months ago.”

We brought the issue to the City of Yakima, currently being sued by Yakima Neighborhood Health for blocking a proposed homeless center last year. Trial is set to begin for that case next february in U.S. District Court in Spokane — and many concerned neighbors are speculating it is affecting our codes deparment and law enforcement.

City spokesman Randy Beehler says the issue, stems further back in time.

“There have been a series of rulings over the last few years that have really restricted the ability of a local jurisdiction like a city to eliminate an encampment,” he said.

Beehler refers particularly to Bell vs. The City of Boise, Idaho — where a group of homeless people sued the City of Boise in 2009 over its ban on sleeping in public places. The Department of Justice weighed in on the case, stating the ban criminalizes homeless people, who have no place to go, and violates the Eighth Amendment.

“We don’t have the authority under the law to go in and remove something like an encampment,” added Beehler.

While police can still arrest campers for violations like drinking in public or assault, they have little to no power when it comes to removing them from their site. That means neighbors will have to put up with the “Tent City” so long as its occupants have nowhere else to go.

“These are [city’s] house guests and we’re the ones cleaning up after them,” said an anonymous neighbor.