It’s a tough topic to tackle, or even debate: homelessness and residents’ worry that an increase in a city’s homeless and transient population leads to more crime. It’s a topic the City of North Bend is broaching carefully.
In an October 22nd press release, the city is asking citizens to participate in a Homeless and Transient Population Survey.
Officials stated in the release that the City of North Bend has been contacted by a “growing number of citizens who have inquired and expressed concern over the rising homeless and transient population in our community.”
Citizens are complaining that the larger transient population may be leading to increased criminal activity in North Bend. City officials confirm they have experienced a “significant increase in calls for police services.”
In a public safety meeting last May, North Bend Police Chief, Mark Toner, confirmed the city had seen an increase in transients, saying the homeless shelter drew them to the area. He also said there was increase in illegal drug use, but would not confirm that one had caused the other. He cautioned residents that illegal drug use occurs everywhere and North Bend is not unique.
City officials say public safety is their number one priority and so are asking residents to give them feedback regarding the homeless and transient population; saying “the survey will provide the City with additional information and data that will help address concerns about any public safety issues.”
The North Bend Community Church will open a winter homeless shelter for a second season on November 15, 2013. The shelter opened last year during a time when North Bend was in the process of enacting an ordinance that bans camping in city parks and open spaces. The shelter gives local homeless an overnight shelter during inclement weather months. The shelter does not allow drug use.
North Bend says its ability to regulate homeless shelters operated in churches is limited because of a constitutional protection of religious expression. They did say, though, to the extent allowed, they are “encouraging area churches hosting the shelters to appropriately screen patrons to avoid bringing persons into our community who pose significant public safety risks.”
Currently, the City of North Bend has an ordinance prohibiting transient persons from camping in city parks and open spaces. They say they have cleaned up a number of homeless encampments that exhibited signs of illegal drug activity and the city council has also authorized additional funds for emphasis police patrols to deal with the perceived increase in the transient population. But, according to the press release, city officials agree they need to do more.
So as it moves forward in dealing with this difficult issue, the city says it hopes residents will take time to complete the online survey and also encourage neighbors to participate.
Police Chief Mark Toner will host a Public Safety Community Meeting on Thursday, November 21, 2013, from 6 -8PM at the Senior Center to discuss the issue of homelessness in the community.
Organizers of the winter shelter, Valley Renewal Center, will also be holding a public meeting on November 2, 2013, from 11AM – 12:30PM at the North Bend Community Church, 146 E. 3rd Street, to answer questions and provide information about this season’s shelter.
To find out more information on the Valley Renewal Center (formerly Snoqualmie Vally Winter Shelter) and their mission visit www.valleyrenewalcenter.com.
Take the City of North Bend Homeless and Transient Population Survey HERE.