Camas, WA — The homeless and panhandler problems in downtown Camas and in other areas of the city came to a head on Memorial Day when Carmen, a homeless woman who sleeps on sidewalk benches along 4th Avenue, was accused of desecrating American flags on display. Local veterans had placed the flags to honor fallen veterans for Memorial Day.
“On Monday morning we heard a commotion, while having breakfast at Natalia’s Cafe, and we saw a lady who threw an American flag on the street and then she spit on it,” said Sonny Liston, a U.S. veteran, and commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW #4278).”
Liston said Carmen cursed the flag, and yelled “I don’t want this flag in my house!”
“Other VFW members confronted her, called the police and things got heated,” said Liston. “She started yelling at all of us, and the police were called. The police talked to her and to all of us, but no arrest was made.”
It’s one in a string of incidents with Carmen, and others who continue to sleep and squat along 4th Avenue. A younger man, named Jordan, was asked to leave the premises last week while panhandling on Lutz Hardware property.
Barry Lutz, owner of the Lutz Hardware building, said his tenants have been a dealing with unauthorized use of the upstairs office bathrooms. A homeless man used the facilities to clean up and left a big mess on the premises. Lutz plans to place additional security measures inside his building.
“I’ve been involved in a couple of these experiences,” said Amy Begley, owner of 4Ever Growing Kids at 4th and Dallas Streets in downtown Camas. “We had one incident on Camas clean up day and while cleaning up Carmen (who has spent four months camping outside her store) was yelling at me in front of my children and I got into quite the argument with her. I called the police because I didn’t think this was appropriate for this to happen in front of all these families and instead of coming down to tell me what my rights were the police decided to give her a rundown of her rights. I don’t believe she has the right to use that space as she does. Her stuff is on the bench 24/7. She moves around during the day but she keeps her belongings here.”
Begley said the police “treat me like I’m the nuisance, like I’m the problem.”
Begley also reported an altercation Carmen had with a customer.
“She (Carmen) smacked the hands of one of my customers who inquired about her being there, and she told them go away or she would call the cops on them.”
Lacamas Magazine also asked Carmen about why she uses this space, and she replied: “I’m busy, get out of my space.”
Jordan told Lacamas Magazine “I’m here because my family dropped me off to get money.”
The employees at Juxtaposition reported that their customers are concerned because they too have been threatened by several people wandering the streets, and said “unless the problem goes away we won’t shop here anymore.”
So, what can be done?
“I have received comments from several citizens and am aware of the incident that occurred on Memorial Day,” said Camas City Council member, Jennifer Senescu. “I have reached out to Mayor Hogan, Administrator Quinn and Chief Lackey requesting a discussion on how to best handle this situation. I recognize the importance of addressing this matter and will work with my peers toward a resolution.”
The Downtown Camas Association (DCA) has also held meetings with city officials to address the growing issue.
Downtown Camas employees have expressed feeling unsafe at night (when working late) as they see another homeless man wander the streets on an ongoing basis. And, the city was able to clear Goot Park of a homeless issue that arose there months ago.
“We are aware of the situation that occurred (on Memorial Day),” said Bryan Rachal, City of Camas Communications Director. “Camas PD was dispatched to the situation and determined that it did not rise to the level of arrest or citation. Homelessness in itself is not a crime, as such we follow standard protocol and connect the individuals with the Clark County Council for the Homeless. We understand the public’s concern and will continue to discuss options internally.”
Senescu plans to address the problem in official City Council sessions, and local merchants plan to formally address the homeless and panhandling issues.