homeless file

FILE — Howard Gudger, a Camp Hope resident, hauls materials as he volunteers his time cleaning up the Yakima Greenway on April 12, 2019.

The Yakima City Council will continue to study a mixed-use homeless shelter on city-owned property near Camp Hope.

The Yakima County “Point in Time” survey identified 108 people experiencing homelessness this year — a number not consistent with 2018’s higher count or county data that shows 270 homeless in the system, of which at least 120 are considered chronically homeless.

The council set up an ad hoc Homeless Facility Review Committee in March to make recommendations about creating a permanent shelter on city-owned land near the former Kmart off State Route 24 and South 22nd Street.

Camp Hope is a temporary homeless encampment behind the former Kmart on East Nob Hill Boulevard. Under an agreement with the city, the camp is required to shut down for two weeks every six months to maintain its temporary status.

The new facility would be the foundation to enforcing the city’s “no camping” ordinance, according to information from city staff.

The initial vision was that the permanent facility would be a low-barrier emergency shelter — meaning it would be open at all hours, that sobriety would not be required for people to enter, and that behavior expectations would focus on maintaining a safe environment.

The committee recommended the facility be a mixed-use development, to include some shelter beds as well as some transitional housing and case management with services on-site. Committee members left the exact number of beds open, to be determined in the city’s procurement process.

Following a presentation of the committee’s findings, Mayor Kathy Coffey, who was a member of the committee, recommended the council have a study session with the committee’s experts.

“My vision, my understanding, of what needed to happen completely changed,” she said of sitting in on the five committee sessions. “The need is totally different than just a low-barrier shelter. It needs a lot more consideration, a lot more work, a lot more data.”

The council voted unanimously to authorize a study session to learn more about housing options and the needs of the area’s homeless.

Uncertainty, complications

The proposed site is within the Yakima Greenway overlay of the city’s zoning ordinance. It’s also identified in the city’s 1995 Greenway Master Plan as being in the northwest section of the Riverside Conservation area.

Any development of the area would require a public hearing, and likely some additional landscaping along State Route 24 to keep with the Greenway’s aesthetic.

Development also would require rezoning the area, which is designated as suburban residential, to a general commercial designation.

Complicating the committee’s review beyond these factors was a high level of uncertainty of the site’s future, given two appeals, one filed in Yakima County Superior Court by the Yakima Greenway and another at the state Growth Management Hearings Board, to stop the rezoning.

The city will not pursue development at the site until things are settled in court. Hearings are scheduled for late this year and a decision anticipated by the end of the year.

If the court authorizes the rezoning, the city could start its procurement process for emergency beds, permanent housing units and case management services within 90 days of the settlement.

But the committee noted other complications with the city’s chosen location, which it considered remote, with no access to public transportation and at a distance from town and services that is not considered walkable.

The site also is close to the city’s wastewater plant, which could result in unpleasant odors for residents.

Councilman Jason White asked why the location was the only one offered by the city. The city’s senior assistant attorney, Sara Watkins, who presented the findings to the council, noted that the City Council had previously directed the committee to only evaluate the one specific site.

Councilwoman Kay Funk said she would like to have more data about the area’s homeless, noting the Point of Time data likely represented less than 50 percent of the area’s homeless.

Recommendations for future

The committee noted the 2.6-acre site should maximize the space for housing and coordinate access to established community services.

Some services, however, including meeting rooms and access to counselors, case managers, health care and care coordinators, could be provided on-site.

The update noted that for the project to be successful, the city should connect with providers who have a track record of success working with the chronic homeless and the ability to form partnerships and create feasible funding plans.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.