Yakima Greenway Foundation and local government officials are urging patience as they continue to hear complaints about homeless camps along the popular trail.
Removal efforts require coordination between Greenway officials, city and county code enforcement and law enforcement from either the sheriff’s office or Yakima and Union Gap police departments, Greenway executive director Al Brown said.
Removing camps also occasionally requires coordination with the state Department of Transportation when squatters, for example, take up residence under nearby bridges.
“We don’t have police authority; we can’t issue citations,” Brown said. “We have to coordinate, so it takes a few days to clean things up.”
Brown said officials post signs warning against trespassing and of potential arrest, but people with no place else to go will likely continue to try to take up residence behind shrubs and away from others.
“If there’s a very small individual camp out there in the brush someplace, we may not know that they’re there,” Brown said. “We’ve got 10 miles of shoreline on the Greenway; we don’t have the resources to check every day.”
Homeless Network of Yakima County director Tim Sullivan said homeless people who refuse shelter turn to forested areas because they feel safe and comfortable. At the same time, parts of the Greenway also offer easy access to downtown, where they obtain services, sustenance or look for work.
“Moving them doesn’t get rid of the problem, it just spreads them out,” Sullivan said.
Joe Caruso, codes administration manager for the city of Yakima, said a city compliance officer and Yakima police had been sent out to the Greenway as recently as Thursday to sweep out a homeless camp and clean up the refuse. Most makeshift camp sites are not large and only have one or two people living in them, Caruso said, so complaints are sporadic.
“It is private property, so we’re in our right to have these individuals removed,” Caruso said. “You can’t have open burning, so that part of what they’re doing is illegal, too.”
Sullivan said he would like to see the Greenway, police and code enforcement work with homeless outreach groups to notify them when people are being moved. Sullivan said these groups could at least inform homeless residents where else they might seek help or shelter.
“Ideally the homeless network and providers would like to work with the city of Yakima and public providers to develop a plan to secure these folks instead of trying to move them around,” Sullivan said.
Caruso said officials recommend alternative housing situations to squatters, such as the Union Gospel Mission, but currently there is no active coordination with homeless service providers.
Caruso said the city’s homeless problem stems from cuts to state and federal programs that benefit the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless. “The city is picking up the tab for problems arising from that,” he said.
Sullivan said he understands the safety issues involved for Greenway users.
“I think everyone understands this is a problem and it needs a more thought-out solution,” Sullivan said. “We’re willing to partner with that.”