Anatone Church grapples with homelessness | North West

ANATONE – After a helping hand turned into homeless people helping each other free up electricity, water and Wi-Fi for months, a group of Anatone residents recently turned to Asotin County officials for help.

On Thursday, the chairman of the county commissioners, the sheriff, the code enforcement officer and two public health officials took a look at a homeless encampment next to the community church from Anatone on Pine Street.

What they found were broken down vehicles, piles of trash and several camper trailers parked on private land. The problem has escalated to the point that the housekeeper is afraid to work alone in the church now, residents of Anatone told officials.

Additionally, raw sewage and rats were spotted, and the area became a safety hazard.

Dallas Dodd, the church’s longtime pastor, said he felt conflicted about the situation but needed to look out for the welfare of his flock.

“It just leaves me in a difficult position,” Dodd said. “As children of God, we need to reach out and help these people, but it just didn’t work. It’s a sad story. I love this church and this community, and as pastor of the church, I feel responsible for the safety of our members.

A few years ago, the church reached out to a down-on-his-luck homeless man and pulled into a nearby RV, Dodd said. He was allowed to “temporarily” plug into the electricity and water mains, but this became too expensive for the people paying the bills. What was supposed to be a short-term situation has escalated.

More people and debris appeared, locks were cut, and church members were caught in a dilemma.

“At first we were willing to pay extra utilities to give him some time to get back on his feet,” Dodd said of the first homeless neighbor. “But it got too expensive, and we found out we were breaking a county code.”

Dodd and a group of concerned residents of this rural farming town and ranch attended a recent county commissioner’s meeting to ask for help. President Chuck Whitman agreed to visit the site, along with other officials, including Public Health Administrator Brady Woodbury.

Whitman is part of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley Homeless Task Force and has been involved in helping homeless veterans for many years.

“Homelessness has always been a problem, but it’s becoming more and more visible,” Whitman told the dozen or so people gathered in the church’s basement Thursday morning. “Chronic homelessness is like being an alcoholic, and the cycle is very hard to break. They need more than just shelter, and that’s not an easy problem to solve.

Woodbury assessed the situation from a public health perspective, finding evidence of violations of solid waste and sewage that must be treated. The process begins with a warning letter and a seven-day deadline to clean up the property, he said.

From there, criminal charges can be filed and the site can ultimately be convicted, but that takes time, Woodbury said.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve done something like this, but we can start the process,” he told church members. “If there is a solid waste problem that attracts vectors, such as rodents, they can be fined or charged with a misdemeanor.”

County code enforcement officer Ed Holbert visited Anatone last week and issued a citation to one of the occupants of an RV. The person is violating an Asotin County ordinance on the temporary placement of RV and RV trailers, he said.

The law allows people to live in motor homes for up to 30 days in a row. The same location cannot be used for more than 60 days per year, Holbert said.

“We’re doing everything we can within the bounds of the law right now,” Holbert said. “We have a mess here.”

Sheriff John Hilderbrand said his office is dealing with similar issues in other areas of the county. Camping trailers have been used for months by homeless people who don’t have sewer hookups, electricity or access to water.

Some of the county ordinances need more “teeth” to help law enforcement deal with these types of issues, Whitman said.

The property next to the church is owned by Don Cole, who resides in Arizona, according to county officials, and one of the occupants of the RV is trying to buy the land.

Anatone’s Bill Taylor said strangers started showing up around the Methodist Church after a homeless man received the rectory’s Wi-Fi password. It was spread and used without permission by random people parking near the church and the house.

Another incident occurred when a church member was outside hanging lights. A woman from the camp reportedly came with two large dogs, and words were exchanged, the group said.

Between the mess and safety issues, church members said they hope the county finds solutions and the property is cleaned up.

“We feel conflicted about it,” the pastor said. “We wanted to help, but it turned into a difficult situation.”