The RVs on T Avenue, those living on the streets of Anacortes and what community members called drug houses were at the forefront of a roundtable Monday on public safety.
The roundtable, which Mayor Matt Miller called an "informal conversation" with him and Police Chief Dave Floyd, drew more than 100 people, several of whom stood along the walls of the City Council chambers once the chairs filled up.
Members of the audience were able to talk to Miller and Floyd about the problems they see around town. Most of their concerns were about T Avenue and drugs in town.
Several community members were critical of what is being done in town, and asked Miller and Floyd why more action has not been taken.
They asked why other municipalities seem to be able to work through problems with unhoused people and don't seem to have the same problems that Anacortes does. Several raised their hands when asked if they thought city government could be doing more.
The roundtable was limited to 55 minutes because of the City Council meeting that started shortly after. Miller promised those assembled that he would be holding more of these meetings, and that he was looking forward to hearing all possible solutions.
He talked about the various state legislative decisions that have made it more difficult to prosecute drug-related crimes.
One new law reduces drug charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, he said. Those misdemeanor citations can only be handed out after two referrals have been made to treatment services, he said. That means police can't arrest people for drug use or possession, he said.
Miller urged people to contact their legislators in the 40th district to make sure they know that these recently passed laws are hurting and not helping here.
Floyd recommended that when people see illegal activity, whether in their neighborhood or involving an RV on T Avenue, that they report it to police.
Calling in something that seems small can lead to citations for those who are breaking the law, he said.
The city maintains a list of known "problematic residences" in town where drug activity has been seen, Miller said.
Code enforcement works alongside law enforcement, he said. That's another tool in the approach to these homes, and helps enforce the law where it's being broken.
Once common misconception is that police are doing nothing about the waste and trash on the street on T Avenue, Floyd said.
Every time police arrive on site with a city truck to clean up the area, the offending RV resident is fined, he said. The same is true when drains must be pumped out because they are being used as waste receptacles, he said.
These citations are referred to court and these people have to answer for them, Floyd said. Some people who are currently parked on T Avenue have as many as six open cases against them, Floyd said.
"Once it goes to the court, we no longer have control over that," he said.
Miller said since late 2021 there have been 738 contacts with 75 individuals who are living on the street.
That doesn't include contacts from community service groups such Helping Hands, he said. The city has a community outreach team that includes help from the Anacortes Family Center and the community paramedic with the Anacortes Fire Department.
One member at the roundtable asked about what kind of help is being offered to those facing homelessness.
Floyd said resources include help with substance abuse, employment, alternatives for housing, treatment for behavioral and mental health, gas cards, assistance with documentation and medical care.
"There is virtually no need that the (outreach team) can't assist with or point you toward resources," he said.
It's important to note that vehicles cannot be towed if someone is living in them, unless there is a permanent alternative that can be offered to them, he said.
Homelessness is not criminalized, City Attorney Darcy Swetnam said. So people can't be removed from the place they live without somewhere else to go.
That means the city must "find the right solutions that don't fight constitutional rights and that's the right thing to do," Swetnam said.
Several asked the city why it couldn't find somewhere to take those who are on T, giving them a place to be that isn't on the city street.
The question becomes where is the best place for them, Floyd said. The city can't just keep shuffling people around.
Someone also asked why these people are traveling to Anacortes to set up camp.
Almost all of them come from Anacortes, Miller said. These are people who have lived here, and through a variety of circumstances are now living in a vehicle on the street.
"There is a misconception that individuals are coming from other areas," Floyd said. "Most individuals are out there in the streets were Anacortes residents even prior to being homeless."