The guest editorial by Dr. David Curnel and Ms. Allison Williams thanked residents for “stepping up and caring for one another” during the pandemic. I was struck by two comments: one, keep encouraging and supporting one another and two, the city of Moses Lake has taken every precaution to keep our essential services going. But what stood out to me was the following: “As a city, we are also working with our partners at Grant County to allocate funds out to help those most in need, our homeless populations.”
I coordinated with a group of about 75 people, businesses, organizations and churches to help keep the homeless camp that Mick Hansen so generously allowed on his property through the winter running. There was no running water nor electricity, so we arranged for daily meals, firewood, laundry and dishwashing, transportation to social services/appointments/interviews, food bank, et cetera. We had to argue hard with the city to maintain portable toilets but they eventually cooperated. Thankfully, the city police were minimally invasive and the fire department was gracious.
Mr. Hansen set a deadline of April 1 to evict the camp guests and stood by his word. He is a good man to have made his property available. He offered to help guests move off his property. End of story? No.
The eviction took place just as this pandemic was starting to heat up and most social service offices closed, including Serve Moses Lake and Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church. Currently there is no place for the approximately 36 homeless people (men, women and children) to relocate within the city. Social services found housing for two people. The rest scattered around the area. The city police are rousting people out of areas where they have tried to set up tents. A call to the city to ask where a safe place to go can be found was answered with “nowhere.” Grant County has a shelter for female victims of domestic abuse and/or sexual assault. Social services offer tools for those with disabilities and/or veterans. There is an all-volunteer Homeless Task Force of Grant County that advocates for the homeless, but they have not met in over six months.
Last year the Ninth Circuit Federal Court said it was “cruel and unusual punishment” to enforce rules that stop homeless people from camping in public places when they have no place else to go.
So I have two questions. First, what are the allocated funds being used for, and second, how is the city navigating around the federal court ruling by not allowing camping in public places when they have no place else to go?
Moses Lake and Grant County let down our “most in need” last winter by not opening a warming center or shelter. Now they are letting them down by not allowing them a safe place during this pandemic. This is bad for the city, the county and our collective community wellness. Stable housing is the first step to combating homelessness. When basic needs are met, success at managing other contributing factors increases significantly.
Vaughn Blethen is a Moses Lake resident.