Georgetown Mayor Bill West has come under fire for a series of alleged anti-homeless actions, including harassing local homeless people and strong-arming a local church to remove benches where the homeless are known to congregate.
Jim Martin, whose dedicated his life to helping the area’s homeless population for well over a decade, claims Mayor West is on a mission to rid the town of its homeless population through bullying and intimidation instead of providing resources.
Mayor West reportedly pressured Georgetown Presbyterian to remove benches and a swingset from a park that sits adjacent to the church, according to Martin, because it was a hotspot for the local homeless who were known to congregate there.
Georgetown Presbyterian Church has a history of helping the area’s homeless, offering weekly lunches and an emergency shelter. Earlier this year, the church saw a change in leadership which Martin claims the Mayor took advantage of in an effort to remove the benches.
WGMD News reached out to the Church and has not heard back.
“I think the Mayor saw the weakness and took advantage,” Martin said. “I heard he gave them no other choice and even ripped out the electrical service to the park without any notice to the church.”
These latest allegations against the Mayor come on the heels of an ordinance that was passed earlier this year under his leadership that banned all camping in town limits which directly affected the area’s homeless population who sought shelter in tents in the woods. The ordinance made that illegal.
Martin also claimed that he’s recieved reports that the Mayor has harrassed local homeless people, some he has helped as Director of The Shepherds Office, a local organization that provides free food and resources for the area’s homeless population.
“He hovers around homeless people,” Martin claimed. “On his personal time, he drives around and tries to find homeless people and then he bothers them. He tries to figure out where they came from. ‘Are you from this town. Are you from this neighborhood? Where’d you come from?’ And that kind of stuff. He’s very intimidating.”
Mayor West would also like to rid the town of its sober living facilities, according to Martin, who said thankfully they’re protected under the Fair Housing Act.
“He always avoids me, gives me a very unfriendly vibe, because I’m associated with sober living homes and he would love to shut those down but he can’t because they’re protected under the Fair Housing Act,” Martin said. “My feeling is those sober living homes are a wonderful tool to get people back on track instead of living behind Walmart they can live in a sober living home and learn about sobriety and recovery.”
“Because he’s trying to be the best Mayor that the town has ever had, he doesn’t like homeless people. He’s taking it too far,” Martin explained. “My next thing is, ok, well now since they don’t have any place to sit next to the church, we’re going to send the people up to the circle and they can sit there, but that’s against the law, against the local ordinance. You can’t say no to every possible solution. He doesn’t want the town to look like San Francisco and I get that, but say yes to something in Georgetown that we can have something going on where people can latch onto recovery and try and move forward in their lives.”
WGMD News reached out to Mayor West who declined an interview and said a news release would be forthcoming.
Town Manager Eugene Dvornick instead responded on behalf of the town, saying “Mr. Martin obviously has his facts wrong with regard to the removal of the playground equipment.”
“The removal of the equipment was a condition of terminating a 1974 Agreement by which the Town leased the property in question (the park has always been owned by the Church, and never by the Town),” Dvornick said. “Despite this provision, the Town, this past May, actually gave the Church the option of keeping all of the equipment, as a donation by the Town, even after the Town ended its leasehold under the Agreement. It was the Georgetown Presbyterian Church, not the Town, that decided that it wished to have all of the equipment removed and the ground returned to grade and sodded. The Town complied with this request.”
It was the Town of Georgetown that decided to terminate the agreement from 1974, according to a letter provided by Dvornick that was sent to the church that gave them the option of keeping the playground and benches but stated: “For any equipment retained, the Church shall sign an acknowledgment and liability release for future use of the equipment, in favor of the Town.”
As for Martin’s claims against the Mayor and Town not being in favor of sober living homes in the greater Georgetown community, Dvornick said the Town “complies with all applicable laws.”
“The Town, and Mayor and Council, complies with all applicable laws regarding sober living homes and other types of supportive housing. As of February 2019, there were 31 supportive housing facilities licensed by the Town, and doing business in all areas of the Town. In addition, since January 2019, the Georgetown Police Department has partnered with Connections Community Support Programs, Inc., to allow police and clinicians to work together to assist persons who may be in crisis, including those with substance abuse disorders. Funding for this program has just been renewed.
“We will not further address Mr. Martin’s baseless and personal attacks against the Mayor.”
Within the past two months, at least two people died in Georgetown as a result of homelessness. One man was found outside the ACE Center, a local organization that provides resources for the homeless population, and just last week another was found dead inside a local motel room.