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Aug. 15, 2022

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Cowlitz County commissioners reject Community House proposal for homeless site

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LONGVIEW — Cowlitz County is reworking a plan for a hosted homeless site after the commissioners rejected the lone proposal they received from Community House on Broadway last month.

The committee formed to work with the Longview-based organization on its proposal was concerned not enough people would go to the site if it required residents to pass drug tests. Cowlitz County commissioners agreed on June 21 to turn down Community House’s plan, to rework their request for organizations to manage the site and eventually reopen applications.

“We really need a solution, but unfortunately the proposal we got from Community House is just not workable,” said Commissioner John Jabusch during last week’s workshop.

In March, the county issued a request for proposals to operate a hosted site as an alternative to the temporary camping site on Alabama Street. Community House was the only organization to apply to run the site by the May 10 deadline.

During a May 25 workshop, the commissioners agreed to form a committee of Jabusch, Longview City Councilwoman Ruth Kendall and Health and Human Services Deputy Director Gena James to negotiate the proposal with Community House.

On June 21, the committee recommended the county reject the proposal and issue a new call for applications that could be more broad, identify a possible location for the site and allow multiple agencies to apply to host parts of the camp. James said the details of the new request for proposal are still in the works and it’s unknown when it may come back to the board for review.

The hosted site, also called Chronically Homeless Alternative Pilot Project, should address a significant portion of the Alabama Street camp’s population, Kendall said last week. Requiring site residents to pass drug tests would scare people away, she said.

“The concern is the proposal they’ve given us … is not going to meet the needs of the people there,” Kendall said. “If we go with just that proposal, we’ll have a lot of folks scattered in in the community, which is what we’re trying to avoid.”

Frank Morrison, Community House executive director, said Tuesday the nonprofit couldn’t “turn a blind eye” to people smoking cannabis or drinking on site.

“Our board committed to applying for this as long as we continue to deliver the services in the way we see most effective for safety and for the health and safety of the community,” he said.

Morrison said he understands why the commissioners would want the site to serve a larger group of people, especially with the estimated annual cost of about $1 million.

During last week’s meeting, Kendall said it’s not as simple considering a “wet camp versus a dry camp,” but allowing the site host to develop relationships with people over time, gaining their trust to help convince them to follow stricter rules and possibly “graduate” to a tiny home or Conestoga hut village as Community House has proposed.

Commissioner Arne Mortensen said the hosted site proposal has no accountability, and “taking money from somebody else to save somebody else is pretty hypocritical and just doesn’t work.”

“I wish I was as sanguine, hopeful as you folks are because what we’re doing is really contrary to human nature,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘You’re not responsible. Here’s some freebies, we’ll take care of you.’ The end result is that we just breed some more.”

Mortensen suggested the county and city shut down the camp, enforce camping laws and do something else with the document recording fees. The county planned to use the fees, required to be used for housing and homelessness programs, to pay for the hosted site.

While they acknowledged need to increase affordable housing, Commissioners Jabusch and Dennis Weber supported moving forward with an altered hosted site plan.

Weber said the county has to address people who are significantly disabled and have roadblocks to permanent housing.

The county should give people an option to move out of a tent into something else that is different than Community House because people aren’t moving from the camp to the shelter right now, Jabusch said. The county and city also need to come up with something to address the concerns of the neighboring businesses and residents negatively affected by the Alabama Street camp, he said.

“Everybody’s afraid to talk about a site, and we need to identify a site and get a site approved by the City Council of Longview because if we don’t then it’s pie in the sky,” Jabusch said.

The commissioners and Kendall clarified the site does not have to be located in the city but Longview is willing to host it.

Weber agreed to the recommendation to rework the call for proposals to run a site that would be safe and secure and include structure, accountability with treatment and housing, and preparation.

“I want us to give this another shot to see what we can do that can get support because we shouldn’t accept the option that doing nothing is acceptable,” he said.

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