LONGVIEW, Wash. — Dozens of homeless campers filed in and out of a crowded campsite on the corner of Alabama Street and Oregon Way in Longview Thursday morning.
“This is where I sleep,” a woman named Julie said, as she pointed to the inside of her tent. “This is where I keep my knickknacks and my dog has a bed in the corner.” She is one of the roughly 150 people living in this campsite.
The site is on city-owned property and has been there for years. Several years ago, the city allowed those experiencing homelessness to camp on the land as an emergency, temporary response to the city’s homeless crisis. Signs outside the camp read it was meant to be closed in March 2020.
“It’s been nothing but heartache,” said Matt Franett, who runs Matt’s Custom Meats about 900 feet from the camp. “It’s lawless. There’s no rules and regulations. They come and go as they want between the drug use, the public masturbation, the fornication, the being solicited for sex not only by employees but also by our customers.”
Franett said he’s been dealing with problems from the campers for years and is frustrated by the lack of response from the city. He took his concerns to this week’s city council meeting, which got heated.
“I spoke out. I told the truth and apparently it wasn’t what the Longview City Council wanted to hear,” he said.
On Thursday, nearly 200 people from the community showed up to support his business.
“I’ll support anybody that’s against this obvious debauchery,” said one customer.
“I came down here because for one, we support Matt’s Meats. For two, I wanted to make sure you knew what our city has allowed to just be dumped in our neighborhood,” another customer said. “I am frustrated beyond belief we have a mayor that refuses to do anything.”
KGW reached out to the mayor’s office for comment but did not hear back.
As for those living in the camp, they understand why nearby businesses are frustrated.
“I understand why because it’s a s---show. Excuse my language, but it is a s--- show. You can smell it already,” Julie said while sitting outside the camp.
Many of them don’t want to be living there, but struggle to find jobs given their criminal records.
“I don’t want to be here, you know, and I don’t want my brothers here either,” said JD, who collects bottles in hopes of saving up enough money to move out. He has a couple hundred dollars so far.
“I’m sorry, we’re not all bad,” said another camper. “There’s a few bad eggs but we’re not all bad, so try not to take it out on all of us. Give us another opportunity. I mean if you guys have any work, I’m willing to work. We’re all willing to work.”
Longview police have responded to multiple calls of theft and vandalism in the area and are working overtime to increase patrols around the camp. They ask anyone living in the area to call 911 if they see anything suspicious.