PORT ANGELES — Widely divergent views on combating homelessness were presented Tuesday at a forum for Position 3 candidates in the Port Angeles City Council Aug. 3 primary election.
Appointed Mayor Kate Dexter, a nursing program specialist at Peninsula College, and challenger John Procter, a retired veterinarian, also touched on a proposed 2½-mile Waterfront Trail bypass initially proposed by Dexter.
Jon Bruce, a Position 3 primary election candidate, was absent from the Port Angeles Business Association forum.
Bruce did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him by phone, emails, text messages and a mailed letter, moderator Andrew May said in an interview.
Bruce did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Procter, 74 on Nov. 2, General Election Day, said in an interview before the 70-minute program that he is getting “a little” support from the conservative-populist Sequim-based Independent Advisory Association (IAA).
“They supported change, and a new direction, and that’s the way I feel, too,” he said.
IAA co-organizer Don Hall said the group is working with Procter.
Introducing himself to the 40 meeting participants, Procter offered himself as a Vietnam War-era conservative.
“If there truly is a situation of a silent majority, I would like to be your voice on the city council,” he said.
He asked those present if they had envisioned a town where “you see abandoned shopping carts, food wrappers and products thrown everywhere, drink bottles, beer cans, plastic bottles, strewn out the street?”
He said he had seen “drunks passed out on the side of the street in the middle of the day in front of our county courthouse, on the side of our civic center, and drug users laying passed out here and there” as well as people “who use our public property and our private property as their personal bathrooms where they urinate and defecate anywhere, any time, 24 hours a day,” he said.
“Did you envision living in place where shoplifters pretty much run rampant?” he said.
“I believe we have a real problem in our community. A lot of communities do. But that’s not an excuse to bypass it and let it be,” he said.
“We need to clean up our downtown by getting people off the streets.”
Procter said that “these people need to be arrested, taken to jail, whatever, taken off their drugs, keep them there long enough, and then maybe they might listen, maybe not.”
Dexter, who will be 49 on Nov. 2, said the community paramedicine program has helped reduce police contact with certain individuals who need help, and that the Redicovery Program, which embeds a social worker with police, has been expanded.
“It may take a long time for someone to build enough trust in relationships to say, ‘OK, I’m ready to get some help,’” Dexter said, adding that there is the additional barrier of few drug treatment and mental health facilities.
She said she recently learned the county jail has been on a reduced capacity because of COVID-19, limiting the ability to arrest people who might otherwise be incarcerated.
“As we’re coming out of the pandemic, we will likely see some more enforcement opportunities for our police department,” she said.
Procter believes that many of the homeless seen in town “come from Seattle and are brought to Port Angeles to take advantage of social services offered in the town.
“I found out this week they come from all over the state, and that comes from someone who works at Serenity House,” Procter said.
He cited Johnny Ankstrom, Serenity House director of shelter services, who disagreed with the assessment of what he had said.
“There was a caveat,” Ankstrom said in a later interview Tuesday. “They come here for treatment and go back where they were from.
“I did not say they come from all over the state.
“I also did say they are our fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and nieces and nephews.”
Procter said those who wind up at the courthouse, Veterans Memorial Park or Front and Lincoln streets have families who don’t want them.
“One thing that brings people here, and I strongly believe this, is the free stuff.”
A generous community enables them, Procter said.
“And for their generosity, what do they do? They destroy our town.”
Dexter cited a recent Point in Time count of outdoor homeless individuals that showed 90 percent had lived in Clallam County or had family in the county.
She said parks are open to the public, and if it was raining and she wanted to put up a tent in a park, it would be legal.
“We need to be really conscientious about the behaviors we don’t particularly like,” she said.
“I know we’re not just talking about tents and being in parks during the day.
Procter compared homeless individuals to children, asking meeting participants if they would tolerate their children “damaging their home, writing graffiti on walls, doing drugs and leaving garbage lying around.
“Why do we tolerate that from strangers on the street?” he asked.
Procter called out a man in the audience he accused of smiling as he spoke.
“You’re smiling? I don’t think it’s funny.”
Dexter said police officers “don’t willingly let people behave in illegal activities” but that a recent state Supreme Court ruling known as the Blake decision in effect decriminalized simple drug possession.
“We need to encourage private property owners to maintain their private properties as well,” she said.
The candidates were asked how they envision the city in 10 years.
Procter said the area needs to do something more than rely on its natural resources as it did for decades.
“The most promising aspect for our community would be tourism,” he said. “We have to dress up our town, we have to clean it up.”
Among Dexter’s goals in the next 10 years are housing for those who need it, a thriving downtown area, a redesigned Race Street, and a robust Waterfront Trail.
Procter said the trail should be better maintained.
He said he is against a proposed alternate route at a place that has had landslides.
“This takes heavy equipment, real heavy equipment. I’m not even sure the city has the equipment to replace the rip-rap.”
Dexter said she was trying to find a solution to the maintaining the trail when she suggested an unfunded line item for planning an upland route, a proposal she has since abandoned.
“I know that’s very concerning to people,” she said.
The city does not have the capacity to maintain the trail on its own, Dexter said.
“We hope the county will continue to work with us on that.”
The plan was scheduled to be discussed Tuesday night at the City Council meeting.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.