News

Homeless camps on their way out

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

Federal Way Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick is close to her goal of ridding the city of homeless camps.

Reacting to pressure from the public and official channels, Kirkpatrick has directed officers to force homeless people out of makeshift huts they’ve erected on private property in the city’s wooded south end. Thirty people in 15 camps at the start of the year have been been reduced to about five, she said.

The nomads, some of them with criminal records, make too many people uncomfortable, and that’s enough reason to “eradicate” them, Kirkpatrick said in remarks Tuesday to the Federal Way Sunrise Rotary Club.

In an interview later that day, Kirkpatrick said the Police Department gets numerous complaints from the public, including formal letters from landowners requesting enforcement of trespassing laws. Concerns also come through the council.

“A lot of people in the community wish we would just leave (the camp dwellers) alone. But for every one person who feels that way, we get 20 calls from people who want the homeless out,” Kirkpatrick related.

“It’s hard,” she said. “On one hand, you feel sorry for these people. But I have a community that doesn’t want them around. Most of them won’t go to a shelter. We try to get them involved with a shelter agency, but the ones that won’t cooperate, we have to make leave.”

Kirkpatrick said the homeless denizens are a potential risk to the public (of ones with criminal records, “99 percent are petty criminals, but we never know when there could be a violent one. That’s why we don’t leave them alone. A few years ago, there was a registered sex offender. People with houses in the area worry about the safety of their children”) and bad for the environment (“These people urinate and defecate in the woods.”)

Officers tear down the “hard camps” (so-named because “they’re more than just a tarp. Some of them have furniture”) and put occupants with arrest warrants in jail, Kirkpatrick said. “We make it less pleasant for them to return. We don’t want to force our problem on some other city, but we want these people to go somewhere else.”

City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar said the solution to homelessness needs to include social agencies, in addition to police responses to unlawful situations.

“We’re a big city with big-city problems. We have to address them. The question is where do we go from here?” said Kochmar, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee. “The economy doesn’t help, and I don’t see it getting any better. Overall, this is a problem that needs some real solutions.”

Breaking up the homeless camps is one of three law enforcement goals Kirkpatrick set for 2003. The others are to continue laying down some extra law in the Westway area and in a stretch of Pacific Highway South, she told the Rotary members.

Westway is a low-income area of about 130 residents, most of them renters, and “99 percent are hard-working, decent people,” Kirkpatrick said. The rest are involved in illegal drugs and other crimes.

Westway must become “a healthy community,” she said. ”It’s been kicking our backsides in terms of police work.”

There have been successes. She said tenants of government-subsidized housing have been driven out. And there has been talk of seeking federal funding for a non-profit agency, perhaps Habitat for Humanity, to buy and tear down substandard rental units that are frequented by undesirables and build new homes for low-income families.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on prostitution and drug dealing on Pacific Highway South, between South 312th and South 356th streets, is continuing. The effort by officers in marked patrol cars has made gains, Kirkpatrick said.

In assessing her two-plus years as Federal Way’s police chief, Kirkpatrick said she favors law enforcement initiatives –– like Westway, Pacific Highway and homeless camps –– that produce positive results in a year’s time.

“I believe in setting a few goals and accomplishing them, rather than having a lot and carrying them over,” she said.

Kirkpatrick was police chief in Ellensburg before being hired by Federal Way in December 2000.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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