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Merchants: Homeless hurting business

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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George Kimbel stands outside his business Creek-side Antiques on Railroad Avenue in downtown Shelton and points out what he believes discourages customers.

"You've got the food bank, the soup kitchen and the rehab, all within a block," Kimbel said. "So you got a steady stream of (poor and homeless) coming down the block." He added, "I get comments from seniors: 'I'd come downtown more often, but it scares me.' "

Kimbel's comments come a week after a Shelton pastor read an open letter to the Shelton City Commission, denouncing claims that down-town businesses are failing because of the presence of homeless and poor people.

In a letter to the commission signed by 60 residents, the Rev. Joseph Mikel – director of The Community Lifeline and pastor at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church – said accusations that the homeless are driving away customers and business owners are "damaging" and "unfounded." The letter called for leadership from the city to help the poor and homeless.

Shelton Mayor Gary Cronce, who owns the downtown business Case by Case Jewelers, told the Mason County Journal that he doesn't believe the homeless presence is closing businesses, but is "hindering" business growth. He said he favors relocating services for the needy from the downtown to somewhere else, although he has no proposed location.

"That's the problem: what do you do?" Kimbel said. "I don't want to push them out in the middle of nowhere. But it's tough on the downtown, having all the amenities here."

He added, "What do you do to be fair to them? For a lot of them, it isn't their fault they're having a hard time."

From the window of his business, Kimbel said he watches drug deals transpiring in the park across the street. The homeless congregate in the park all day, when they're not going to soup kitchens and food banks for meals, he said.

"In the big city, they call that loitering," Kimbel said. "But there's no loitering laws here."

He added, "The majority are nice people who are having a bad time, but they need something to do."

Paula Ferrara, owner of Art Talks, agrees.

"I'm not against the homeless," she said. "This country should be ashamed of itself. A lot of these people should get help and not struggle so much."

But Ferrara can immediately identify a challenge conducting business at the corner of Cota and Third streets: "There's feces in the alley."

Ferrara said she also faces furniture and debris dumped behind her business, and homeless people walking around screaming.

"It's a difficult thing, because it's usually not the fault of the person per se," she said.

Nevertheless, "Customers tend not to come after 4 p.m.," Ferrara said. She added, "You don't put a homeless shelter in the middle of your merchants."

As for relocating services for needy residents, Ferrara suggests the neighborhood west of the Shelton Civic Center. "It would have to be some place that has bus service," she said.

The city can be pro active, Ferrara said.

"I'd love to see the city provide rest room facilities and take a measure in cleaning up the downtown area, and I mean garbage trucks," she said. "Instead of ignoring it, clean it up."

Paul Todd, owner of Todd's Shoe Repair on Railroad Avenue, said the presence of amenities for the homeless discourages entrepreneurs.

"That's why you don't see many businesses on Second Street ... You can see how many vacant buildings we have," he said.

Todd said he doesn't believe the presence of the poor and homeless affects his business, because he doesn't have a retail shop. But he says he watched the activities in the park across the street.

"Last summer, they'd sit in the park, smoke, playing knife games — I think it's called chicken," he said.

But Todd said moving the amenities for the poor and homeless, perhaps up to the Mountain View area, won't resolve the issues.

"If they move it to another location, those people will have problems," he said.

Copyright 2013 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: May 30, 2013

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