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Yakima homeless shelter gets conditional OK; many neighbors vow to continue fight

By Kaitlin Bain Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA – Neighboring residents and business owners near a proposed permanent homeless shelter in Yakima say they don’t plan to accept Friday’s project approval without a fight.

The city of Yakima hearing examiner approved the building’s location with a few conditions – staff members have to be trained and ready to respond to complaints from neighbors at any time and the shelter’s “good neighbor police” is mandated as a part of the decision.

Transform Yakima Together, the organization that operates the shelter, also plans to reach out to neighbors during the appeal process, said Executive Director Andy Ferguson.

But residents say the conditions and other efforts taken by Transform Yakima can’t protect their neighborhood.

Many are prepared to appeal the hearing examiner’s decision to the Yakima City Council. And if that doesn’t work, some business owners have said they are considering hiring a lawyer.

“Homeless shelters attract homeless people,” said nearby business owner James Coleman, who stressed that Transform Yakima can’t control the actions of those outside the shelter no matter how good things are inside its walls. “Therefore, the surrounding neighborhoods will have more homeless people in them.”

It’s not hard to find nearby residents who have experienced new challenges since the shelter came to the neighborhood on a temporary basis in mid-November.

Mike Alliston owns Sundance Carwash, which sits diagonally across the street from the shelter.

Since it’s moved in, Alliston said, he’s seen a significant increase in foot traffic and had more than one instance where someone defecated on his property. His customers have also complained that people leaving the shelter have screamed at them while walking by or asked them for money.

“I’m at a loss,” he said. “This is my retirement. I really know I have to fight them because I think they’re going to ruin me.”

Coleman said he’s in the same situation with the used-car lot on Fruitvale Boulevard he’s had for decades.

He remembers starting the business in 1977, when the area was still struggling to get over the loss of customers created when U.S. Highway 12 was relocated, which eliminated the need for many people to travel down Fruitvale.

“We still have a ways to go to return to our former glory days, but we have one hell of a good start,” he said. “Why would anyone in their right mind want to transplant North First Street right into the middle of Fruitvale Boulevard?”

He worries that without the ability to continue making Fruitvale better, he won’t be able to sell the lot at a high enough price so that he can retire.

For some, the fear runs even deeper than not knowing how they’ll spend their final years.

Kimberly Rosales said she’s seen an increase in the number of things stolen off her porch or from her car. She also now has to lock her dumpster if she doesn’t want to clean up trash strewn about the next day – a problem she didn’t have before this fall.

These changes are frustrating to her and many others in the neighborhood because she’s doing the best she can to provide for her family and keep the area around her home clean – efforts she said are being thwarted by some of the new homeless people who walk by.

“My husband works more than 50 hours a week while I also work more than 40 hours to give our kids the life we never had, and it’s not easy (to keep going) when you can’t let them out to ride their bikes or to throw a football anymore,” she said. “It’s scary coming home and seeing people standing by your place when you know they have no business there.”

She’s not completely against a shelter, she said; she just asks that it’s located somewhere further from an elementary school – which is four blocks from her home – and a neighborhood with many children.

“Things that get stolen are replaceable,” Rosales said. “But our children are not. I’m sure half the people (at the shelter) are great people and really just need a hand up. But others aren’t, and I just want to know when my kids leave for school they will be safe and I will see them after work.”

Transform Yakima Together’s Ferguson said he’s willing to work to find solutions for decreasing the negative impacts from the shelter and to fight general crime in the neighborhood.

“We just got a couple Crown Victoria vehicles from the State Patrol and we want to offer those to the community as community patrol vehicles,” he said. “I believe if we work together, we can not only mitigate the impact but also make the neighborhood better than before we got here.”

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