EVERETT, Wash. — A showdown looms between more than 100 homeless people and city officials over where they can camp.
The city has given the 110 or so campers until noon on Thursday to vacate a lot they've taken over along Rucker Avenue.
"Just leave us alone and let us do our civic duty to the community," said Robert Smiley.
Smiley runs the Hand Up Project, which helps get homeless people off the streets. He leased the land, nearly the size of a city block, for the next month and is using it to connect people with services.
Penelope Protheroe of Angel Resource Connection is one of those working connect the homeless with services. She said closing the camp will only make the situation worse.
"All these people will just scatter onto all the roads of Everett and regroup at another location that won't have our support," said Protheroe.
There is also a strict no drug policy at the camp. Non-profits are on hand to connect people with services and tents are spaced six feet apart to protect from coronavirus.
The homeless came to the grassy lot after Snohomish County officials forced them out of a camp outside the downtown courthouse on Sunday night, citing safety issues.
The new camp does have the property owner's permission to occupy the land, but it is operating without a permit.
The camp quite literally popped up overnight, taking nearby neighbors by surprise.
Geno Fahed runs West Motorsports right across the street and said the camp is bad for business.
"We just opened back up from the coronavirus and look at this," said Fahed, pointing to row upon row of tents. "I mean, going from coronavirus to this, it's not fair for us. It's bad for the community."
Smiley said he understands neighborhood concerns, but he had little choice.
"I would rather I didn't have to do something like this. If they offer us a place to go with this encampment, let's go," said Smiley. "There are better-suited places that aren't around the neighborhood, but I had nowhere else to go."
The coronavirus pandemic is complicating matters. The CDC said homeless camps should not be disturbed to prevent the spread of the disease.
Regardless, Everett has given campers 24 hours to leave the lot. If they don't go, the property owner faces fines and legal action.
A spokesman said the city is looking into other options but did not provide details.