PORT ANGELES — Several trailers and vehicles in which people were living were removed by owners from the street in front of Serenity House of Clallam County after police established a no-parking zone in front of the homeless shelter.
The move was a response to general concern among surrounding neighbors on West 18th Street over the increase in people living curbside, Executive Director Sharon Maggard said.
Many of the occupants, drawn to Serenity House by the services offered, were forced from area campgrounds by COVID-19 restrictions.
The parking ban will be in effect until further notice, Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said Thursday.
Maggard said about a dozen trailers and live-in vehicles were parked on the street, six on each side, before the owners removed most of them by mid-day Wednesday, leaving three behind.
They were heeding numerous police-posted sandwich-board signs, of the kind left along parade routes, that read “vehicles to be removed beginning on 7/1/2020 at 11:00am.”
Serenity House resident Ronald Latimer, 45, who lives in a tent on the property, said Thursday morning there was a mad scramble Wednesday to remove the vehicles.
“It was a massive panic with people getting their trailers and vehicles out of here,” said Latimer, who was sifting through a pile of discarded items on Port of Port Angeles property across the street, including clothing, shoes, books, a “Mr. Mom” video and a portable radiator-heater.
One resident with a truck towed several of the vehicles.
“He made a killing that day moving everyone out of here, several hundred dollars,” Latimer recalled.
“He had been broke and hating life.”
After area residents complained about the vehicles and trailers to city officials, Maggard said she met with Police Chief Brian Smith to figure out a solution.
“We’ve had lots and lots of complaints in the community,” Maggard said.
Serenity House can’t control people who park their vehicles on a public street, she said.
“We take care of our private property, and we will help the police in any way we can to try to control things.”
People who parked along the curb, like those who camp outside the shelter, partook of the newly offered three meals a day.
That’s increased from one meal daily since the facility began to operate 24 hours a day instead of from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tents have decreased in the past five months from 35 to 15-20 after Maggard hired a security company to patrol the area from 9 p.m. to sunrise, leading to the eviction of several drug users, she said.
“We ended up trespassing a lot of people who didn’t want to leave,” Maggard said.
Latimer was glad the drug users were gone.
Five sharpie containers filled with needles were found in one tent, he said.
“Not all of us are drug addicts,” Latimer said.
Maggard said there were nasty posts on Facebook about the vehicles, part of negative feelings toward Serenity House among some that is manifested by passers-by sometimes shouting epithets at the facility.
Residents have driven into near the area where people are allowed to camp and yelled at people sheltering there, Maggard said.
“We have people driving by all times of the day making horrible statements about the homeless people,” she added.
“They don’t have any place to go. They don’t have any other place to get three meals a day. If I close tent city, they will all be back downtown.
“Is that what the community wants?”
“It’s really sad trying to do the community a favor by helping them shelter in place.”
Maggard said she did not know where the vehicle owners that had left the area ended up.
Neither did Viada.
It is illegal to “store” a vehicle on a city street for more than 14 days, after which a citation can be issued or the vehicle towed, Viada said.
“The best possible scenario is if there is voluntary compliance,” he said.
Towing a vehicle that is someone’s home creates complicated issues, Viada added.
Logistically, a trailer can contain black and grey water that a towing company may be ill-equipped to dispose of, and the company may not have room to store a large vehicle.
And if people living in vehicles containing all their possessions leave them to go somewhere and return to find the vehicles gone, they are left in a void, Viada said.
“They are standing on the sidewalk, and now what are they supposed to do?” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].