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Vice Mayor concerned about city's treatment of homeless

The city of Kenai administration has started cracking down on the city’s homeless and transient population, though at least one city official is concerned enough about the actions that he has urged caution.

"You know, in my mind, some of their rights are violated." - Vice Mayor Tim Navarre

City Manager Paul Ostrander reported to the council that he and the police chief removed tons of stolen items left by homeless people in various wooded areas of the city.

“One of the biggest concerns is that the donation centers, including the Salvation Army, allow folks to deposit things after hours and they're not secured in any way,” Ostrander said. “So what happens is folks go in there after hours and they fill their arms up with bags, they take them out in the woods, and they just go through them and anything that they might want to keep they keep and the rest of it stays in the woods, which is why we just picked up 2.5 tons of trash in the woods.”

He also reported that more and more homeless are being immediately trespassed from the public library.

“We've instituted stricter standards and a new protocol where if people violate our standards in the library, they're going to be trespassed. So there's been a lot of times in the past where we've given multiple warning after warning,” Ostrander said. “And the library staff has been instructed now that if folks are violating that and they're doing something that it's going to make it uncomfortable for the rest of the folks to be in the library, then we're going to trespass them immediately. Followed, if a second occurrence happens, a longer trespass, and a third instance, they'll be trespassed for up to a year.”

Councilman Tim Navarre, though he agreed that everyone needs to behave, had concerns about the city’s aggressiveness.

“I know that there’s issues. Some of them have mental health issues and, so, I can appreciate the struggle,” Navarre said. “I also can appreciate the issue but to me there's also some issues with how they’re approached and dealt with also. Almost like they have no representation and it doesn't matter how they get talked to or what. You know, in my mind, some of their rights are violated. I can give you give you specifics if you want.”

Navarre, who serves as the city's vice mayor, said that the city needs to take ownership of the problem and provide some alternative to throwing people in jail.

“It is part of our problem and we have to come up with a solution than just push them out or put them in jail and then they come right back out,” Navarre said. “I don't know what our answers are, I am concerned that we talk about it without also looking at some type of alternative or temporary solutions, as well as work with our nonprofits and others.”

Navarre suggested the city meet with local social service agencies, such as Love INC, in a work session to find solutions.

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