Pasco’s vexing homeless population has driven county leaders to establish new rules to stop panhandlers wandering into traffic on U.S. 19 and plan strategies to evict people from camps set up on vacant lots.
But this week county commissioners talked about whether additional steps are necessary.
The discussion unfolded after commission chairman Jack Mariano told his fellow board members about a group of surveyors at a construction site in Hudson near U.S. 19 who were confronted by homeless people wielding machetes who had set up camp there.
“We’ve got to get those people out who are dangerous,” Mariano said.
County staff told commissioners that code enforcement officers, often charged with responding to reports homeless camps or panhandling, have raised concerns about confronting people using drugs or behaving in unpredictable ways. They have previously been warned about some homeless people in camps having weapons.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey met with sheriff’s officials this week and she said that deputies will need to go with code enforcement officers when visiting homeless camps because “some of them have guns.”
Mariano said it isn’t acceptable for homeless people to interfere with businesses. He said he had received several complaints about homeless people turning customers away from businesses.
Commissioner Seth Weightman said that the county needs to provide code enforcement officers with whatever tools they need so that they can safely do their jobs.
“No options for me are off the table,” he said.
County Administrator Mike Carballa said that options are limited because code enforcement officers are not trained law enforcement officers.
”Extracting them from the situation right now is the right thing to do,” Carballa said. “Believe me, we take the safety of our employees very. very seriously and it’s why after last week’s incidents I told them we are not going in there. We’re done.”
Assistant Administrator of Development Services Sally Sherman said staff has already been looking into how code enforcement officers can better protect themselves. Weapons are not an option and she said the county will meet with law enforcement to discuss what can be done.
Mariano said the area where the threats originated had been cleared out a few months ago by deputies and code enforcement officers but the homeless camp returned.
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“We’ve got to work together to solve this,” he said. “We can’t have our guys in danger.”
Commissioners also talked about taking next steps with a homeless camp off Moog Road in Holiday. Starkey pushed to find a way to serve code violation notices on the owner, who lives out of the country. She said he has not responded to repeated requests to address the matter.