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Yakima’s Response to Homelessness

Jade Tillequots Jade Tillequots, Yakima chapter leader

Yakima, like many cities in Washington, is looking for ways to best house individuals in their community who are experiencing homelessness. Yakima has had what is called a “homeless encampment” where individuals can live. I have heard many questions about this encampment such as who is helping these people and how old are the people in the encampment? Well, I am here to answer these questions for you.

Previously, the encampment was in downtown Yakima at the corner of South 3rd and East Walnut Street, right across the street from the Yakima Police Department. Many of its residents were re-located there after the city released an ordinance banning people from living along the Yakima River. The Yakima Herald Republic reported that the encampment would close in November 2016 for the winter, with the hope that churches would open their doors to help. Now that spring is around the corner, the discussion of where the encampment will move to has begun. Yakima County has proposed a few places, including behind the Kmart which recently went out of business. Per a report from the Yakima Herald Republic, the Yakima City Council has come to a 5-2 favorable vote to enter a no-cost lease to have the encampment behind the old Kmart building. There has been no date of when plans will be drawn up or when the lease will go into effect.

Many organizations helped the past encampment will continue to do so in the new location. A faith-based organization, called Transform Yakima Together, has offered to help manage the day to day operations. They will volunteer at no cost to Yakima or the taxpayers. Neighborhood Health Services also helped in the past, by provide drinking water and other necessities. While the number of physical donations has been limited, the public can help donate tangible goods (like food and money) by contacting these organizations.

It is estimated that the occupants of the previous encampment were aged 30 and older. Where, then, are the youth experiencing homelessness staying? The old encampment only allowed people over the ages of 18 to stay. There are some options for homeless youth. The Union Gospel Mission has a shelter; however, this is not specifically a youth shelter. So far, no rules or age restrictions have been set for the new location. It is good to see organizations and citizens working together to find a location for this new encampment and support those who are experiencing homelessness. I hope that in the future a similar effort can be put towards targeting the actual causes of homelessness in Yakima.