Mill Beach transients keep police busy

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer May 24, 2013 07:29 pm

Pete Shephard and his wife have found the perfect retirement home in Brookings.

The Macklyn Cove condo has views of the ocean crashing onto the sands of Mill Beach, fantastic sunsets and a great beach on which to stroll.

It’s the denizens of that beach — the homeless who camp at the south end — who concern Shephard, a resident of  Selah, Wash. He has an 11-year-old daughter.

“If you’re going to be homeless and camping,” Shephard said with a chuckle, “it’s a great beach to be homeless and camping on.”

He and his wife have always wanted to retire to Brookings, and with interest rates at historic lows — even though he’s 10 years from retirement — he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“We saw this one, negotiated the price, and all we needed to do was take a look at the place and the deal was done,” Shephard said. 

“So, we headed down to the beach. First we looked north; that looks good. Then south, and there’s two homeless guys, two more under the trees, one on the beach, and a couple milling around. I thought, ‘This isn’t good.’ I didn’t want to invest a bunch of money if there’s going to be a problem.”

Shephard had until Thursday (May 23) to sign the paperwork to purchase the place.

“We haven’t had any concerns of homeless down there; more of what I get is the sewer plant or because it’s a public beach, is there a lot of rowdiness going on,” said Marie Gray, owner of ReMax Coast and Country in Brookings. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. In general they really are harmless; you just approach them with kindness. In all reality, hasn’t been a problem getting buyers in there.”

Shephard said that in the 14 units there, three are occupied year-round and there has been only one break-in.

But he called the Brookings Police with his concerns, and they told him what they tell the itinerant campers: The land atop the ridge and down to the sand belongs to South Coast Lumber and the beach is state park land — “You can’t camp there,” Lt. Donny Dotson of the Brookings Police Department said.

“If they’re in the trees, they’re trespassing,” said Dotson. “They’re not allowed to camp in there.”

The police frequently roust them out, but they are merely replaced by others. Dotson said responses to the area are complaint-driven. 

“We don’t get repeat people,” Dotson said. “I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with the same people in the same couple of months. It’s a constant struggle to keep them from messing the place up.”

Shephard said he’s not worried about the homeless people as they generally don’t bother others using the beach. But he worries about sanitation.

“They’re not going to Fred Meyer to use the restrooms,” he said. “It’s not exactly healthy. There are sanitary issues, security issues, the list goes on and one. You know they’re going back into the treeline and dumping their business. You have kids, and they like to build forts — let your imagination run. Other state parks they have outhouses, Porta-Potties; here there’s nothing.”

“I’d hate to turn down something for this kind of reason,” Shephard said.

Monday, police arrested one person, the fire department extinguished a smoldering beach fire and public works employees cleaned up litter and debris there.

“The chief (Chris Wallace) takes this pretty seriously,” Dotson said. “We’ve directed numerous sweeps down there. If people call we go down there.” He laughed. “They’ll probably be back tonight.”

State Park Ranger Dean Roppe could not be reached for comment.

“We want the place, but I’m really struggling with this aspect of this,” Shephard said. “When you have these quasi-permanent encampment, you can find hypodermic needles — all the weird things that people who live on the fringe can do.”

Shephard also wonders how the homeless people affect tourism in Brookings. Police say they are more prevalent in Harbor, where law enforcement presence is limited. 

“If you know you’re a tourist town, tourists are only attracted to towns they feel safe and comfortable,” he said. “If you reduce the security side, businesses move out, people move out; you don’t want that.”

If he decides against that condo, he and his wife will seek out a similar one.

“Brookings is a pretty town,” Shephard said. “We came down there years ago and said if we can find a place there, we will buy a place there. If you make this town a destination, the people will come.”