Op-ed: Why are the homeless less visible in East Wenatchee? It’s a good thing, really

By Jim Russell
Empire Press Correspondent

The annual Point-In-Time (PIT) homeless count for North Central Washington was held Jan. 28.

The PIT count is a snapshot of homeless individuals who are temporarily sheltered and unsheltered on a single night in January for the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Commerce. The federal government uses the data to allocate funding.

This year’s count was expanded to those on the streets so I volunteered to participate in East Wenatchee because my wife and I have given individuals on street corners bags of household items collected by my church for the last three years.

On the day of the count, another volunteer and I searched from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. in freezing fog and found only one homeless man.

At the East Wenatchee Police Department, I learned the homeless are around but patrols have increased to keep them moving, making them less visible.

The department also said PowerHouse Ministry Center at the Shalom Church, located on Valley Mall Parkway near 10th Street N.E., is working with them. The ministry center is an effort by area churches to offer help to people in need. Scott Stevenson is a co-coordinator who manages the building and works with PowerHouse Ministry’s mission. Its website (powerhousewenatchee.com) says they’ve networked with 10 churches and Stevenson said a lot of businesses and donors help out.

They currently work with 15 to 50 people Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can have a shower, laundry, food and first aid. No one stays overnight.

He thinks he serves the same number of homeless as before but the numbers go up and down. “We have air conditioning so it was higher this summer than I’ve ever seen. We were up during the brutal winter.”

East Wenatchee businesses had complained about the homeless drinking beverages with concentrated alcohol, so East Wenatchee worked out an agreement with retail distributors to voluntarily remove selected beverages from the shelves.. Stevenson said, “High-octane stuff is not on the shelves any more. I’d say overall it’s helped.”

Our search on Jan. 28 verified service workers and early morning walkers at the Wenatchee Valley Mall haven’t seen homeless persons quite as frequently lately.

We didn’t see trash or campsites on the hill behind Fred Meyer’s gas station, nor on the Loop Trail where they’ve frequently lingered in trees and benches near the Pipeline Bridge.

They weren’t camping under the east end of the bridge or in the woods north of the bridge up to 19th Street N.W.

An officer and dispatcher with East Wenatchee’s Police Department told us they’re sweeping those areas because of complaints. The state Department of Transportation complained that too many crews were needed to clean up trash and repair damage.

Stevenson said he talks with the homeless about how to behave. “Recycle sometimes. Work with people. Pick up the garbage. You wonder why people are getting angry? Look, make it easier on yourself.”

My partner interviewed one homeless man walking in a parking lot with a stick on his shoulder holding his coat. He said he didn’t stay anywhere because he walked all night to stay warm.

Stevenson said, “After the night, they come in dog-tired, dirty. On Mondays they have bloody blisters on their feet. They say, ‘Everywhere a police officer tells me to move on.’ ”

But Stevenson praised the city. He said, “The police are excellent, kind. Can’t say enough. They got a job to do.”

“Mayor Lacy cares about people. He comes down to talk with me. He talks solutions,” Stevenson added. “Over the last year I’ve seen some good results.”

Stevenson should know. He first volunteered to work with the homeless for two weeks. Now in his 15th year, he’s worked at Solomon’s Porch, Light House Ministries and now here.

“It’s getting better,” he said. “Homeless people take care of this place. It’s worth it.”