Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith, right, addresses public concerns about homelessness during a forum Wednesday at the Vern Burton Community Center. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles residents fume over RVs, camping

Business residents and business owners talked to police this week about roving RVs, campers and panhandlers.

PORT ANGELES — Roving RVs parked randomly on city streets are overstaying their welcome.

Port Angeles business owners and residents who suspect some of the occupants of selling illegal drugs, took them to task — along with trespassers, homeless campers and pushy panhandlers — at a 90-minute meeting Wednesday night in the Vern Burton Community Center meeting room.

Among the approximately 90 people who attended were some men who spend much of their time on the streets.

They told of being aggressively harassed downtown for doing nothing illegal, one assuring residents at the meeting, “None of these people are going to harm anyone.”

A man in the packed meeting room told a story of armed aggressors rousting people who were sleeping outside.

Police Chief Brian Smith said Wednesday his department is investigating a report of an adult male allegedly brandishing a firearm at a person who was outdoors in a camping environment.

Those who live indoors and those who don’t vented their frustrations at the gathering organized by city Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West and Smith, who said he himself was cursed by a panhandler whose foul language, Smith reminded meeting participants, was not illegal.

West warned that eventually, city officials likely will have to accommodate the city’s homeless population with areas zoned for camping.

“It’s not in the current work plan,” he said after the meeting.

West said overnight vehicle camping already is allowed in four areas of the city, including two RV parks.

Reports of RV drivers who were said to troll city streets dispensing drugs like curbside street-festival vendors were the primary focus of the community meeting, which Smith said grew exponentially from plans to meet with just a few concerned individuals.

Smith said their worries centered on rogue RVs and motor homes, trespassing and camping in the city limits.

The RVs that move from street to street are tough to investigate, and tougher still to prove are the front of drug dealing that some residents say they are, said Smith and Detective Cpl. Tom Kuch of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team.

Kuch said he hears complaints “all the time” about people allegedly dealing drugs out of RVs and motor homes but that there is no “intel” that it’s actually happening.

He and Smith said it’s not enough for people to observe what they believe is someone dealing drugs for police to execute a search warrant.

“Sometimes, perception is true, but we don’t have the facts to prove that,” Kuch said.

Under city ordinance, an RV or any other vehicle can be removed if it is parked in the same spot for more than 14 days.

Mona Gates, owner of Olympic Marine, said she has seen drug buys take place outside a motor home.

“A guy spray-painted on the side of it, ‘You owe me 40 bucks,’ ” Gates said after the meeting.

She said during the meeting that the 14-day threshold needed to be adjusted.

“We have to maybe open up a new conversation of what we can do,” Gates said.

But a different perspective was offered by a man who carried a stuffed backpack and wore a jacket with “POW-MIA” on the back.

Below it was the picture of a man’s silhouette, a guard tower in the background, and the words “You are not forgotten.”

He said his immobile vehicle is parked on a dirt turnaround on city property.

“I’m going to move that motor home,” he pledged.

“I’ve got multiple issues to get it running.”

Under city ordinance, the owner of a broken-down vehicle parked on the street has 48 hours to remove it, Smith said.

Under state law, a junk vehicle must meet three of four criteria: be at least 3 years old, be extensively damaged, be “apparently inoperable” and have a fair market value equal only to its value as scrap.

One man said he and his wife no longer walk downtown for lunch after working out at the Clallam County YMCA because the environment is not hospitable.

“They have taken over” some areas, he said.

“Don’t say ‘they,’ ” one man shouted back.

“I’m one of those people.”

A businessman said an area around East Second and South Peabody streets east of downtown has seen increased disruptions, including fistfights.

He said after one such altercation, the driver raced away down Second in a motor home.

“We have the Salvation Army as a neighbor,” he added.

He said his worst problem used to be people parking in his parking lot during cheese-distribution day.

“Now I’ve got employees who are afraid to walk to their cars at night,” he said.

“Nobody’s gonna hurt them,” a man yelled back.

Smith said that typically, the area the man referred to generates a high volume of calls for service from among the 23,000 to 24,000 calls his department receives annually.

On Thursday, Smith urged residents to call his office with concerns about the topics discussed at the meeting.

“It’s a big, complex social issue,” he said.

”What you saw [Wednesday] night was people becoming more aware of other people’s views and perspectives.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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