Homeless camping forces removal of foliage from Norden Hall lot

Scott Swanson

Angila Tack watched Wednesday, June 7, as an excavator operated by Brent Graham ripped out decorative bushes on the west side of the former Wells Fargo building, now called Norden Hall, at 1266 15th Ave.

Tack operates Angila Tack Food Services, a catering company that provides hot meals to subscribers on weekday evenings, from the building.

But lately, she and other family members say, they’ve been having other visitors: homeless individuals who have been camping behind the foliage.

Krystina Tack, Angila’s sister, said the family is “frustrated” by their and law enforcement’s inability to keep intruders out, and they finally decided to simply remove the vegetation.

“We had drug paraphernalia, spoiled food and graffiti on the building, which we just painted last year,” Krystina said. “This is right in the middle of town. We’re right by the high school, and that’s a hot area of town. We don’t want drugs here.”

She said a homeless couple were the most recent visitors, but “we’ve trespassed six or seven people in the last five or six months.”

The building is owned by Tony and Shelly (Tack) Larson, who also have purchased a number of other downtown buildings in recent years.

Once, when Angila arrived for work, a homeless man was lying in front of the entry door, having urinated on the building, Krystina said.

One woman, who was told to leave, walked out “yelling profanity at us,” leaving belongings behind.

Tack said the vegetation removal cost “a couple of thousand dollars,” but they felt it was necessary.

She said the police have told them to “just throw away” the paraphernalia and other items they find.

The new homeless encampment on the north end of 24th Avenue provides law enforcement with a means to restrict homeless individuals from camping on public land, but Tack said it doesn’t help when they are on private property.

“This is a problem they need to solve,” she said. “We don’t want to blame the police. But we don’t know what else to do. This is private property. The expense falls on us. Is the solution to erect fences around our buildings? Nobody in town wants that. They have a Facebook page for persons experiencing homelessness, but there’s no help for business owners having these problems.”

Police Chief Jason Ogden acknowledged that the visible homeless population has expanded.

“Typically, when the weather gets nicer, we see people kind of come out of the woodwork more,” he said.

Ogden noted that the police department has a “property watch list,” which gives officers authority to move transients from private property when they’re spotted. Police have encouraged downtown property owners to get on the list.

“Anyone found camping on private property, if they’re on the watch list, we’ll direct them to FAC (homeless shelter) or to our overflow spot at the police department,” he said.

He noted that one individual, who had settled in next to the old T&M Pizza building in the 1100 block of Main Street, was thus directed to move on.

He acknowledged that the Norden Hall situation was problematic because the vegetation enabled the campers to hide, even though, he said, the building was on the property watch list.

“If we can’t see them,” he said, “we don’t know they are there.”