Concerns mount over Vashon's Village Green
March 25, 2010 · Updated 10:56 AM
The Village Green is a vibrant scene on Saturdays, when the Farmers Market draws hundreds of Islanders to the grassy patch in the center of town.
But some Islanders have noted a troubling trend at the small Vashon Park District property: On other days, it is a destination for the Island’s homeless population, a group that sometimes behaves poorly there, neighbors say.
Park regulars bring their canines into the “no-dog” park; stay past the green’s dusk closing time; use the park’s newly installed bathroom inappropriately; drink alcohol, smoke and use drugs there; and sometimes engage in verbal or physical arguments at the small park in the heart of town, said Susy Roberts, who lived for seven years in the house directly west of the Village Green and is now trying to sell the home.
“As long as they don’t get drunk there, leave their dogs somewhere else, don’t smoke, don’t curse and don’t get into fights, nobody would have any issues with them,” she said. “What would be ideal is for everybody to observe the rules. If they want to hang out there, that’s not my business — just be nice human beings, and there’s no problem.”
But real estate agent Emma Amiad, whose office is located across the street from the Village Green, said the people who enjoy the Village Green are using the park appropriately, and other Islanders have nothing to be concerned about.
“There’s no one spooky over there, no drugs being used, no hanky-panky — frankly, these are people who don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Amiad, who knows many of the homeless people on Vashon by name through her work with the Interfaith Council on Homelessness.
Neighbors, however, are concerned about the type of activity that takes place in the Village Green.
They feel it’s an unsafe and unfriendly place when the usual group of transients is there — most days and sometimes late into the evenings.
“It’s not a place my wife and I would be comfortable about letting our kids go at night,” said John Osborne, who lives on 100th Avenue S.W. about three houses away from the Village Green. “I walk by there sometimes three times a day, and always see these shadowy forms there. They could be nice people, but there’s no way I’d be there after dark.”
Osborne, a father of two teen daughters, said he’s been growled at by dogs at the park and feels that activity at the park — which technically closes at dusk — has increased and worsened in the last year.
On the same street, directly next to the green, Roberts and her husband put their three-bedroom house on the market a month ago. They showed it to two “very interested” families, she said, both of whom immediately lost interest in the property when they caught a glimpse into the daily activities at the Village Green.
“They walked outside to look at the yard, and a big horrendous fistfight broke out in the Village Green,” Roberts said. “They immediately said, ‘No, we’re not interested.’ The same thing happened with this other woman. Our real estate agent confirmed that there was just a little too much activity going on at the Green.”
Roberts and several other neighbors worked several years ago to mitigate issues with noise, litter and illegal activity at the park. But their work seems to have been forgotten, she said, and the same issues are rearing their heads today.
Park officials are working to make the park as enjoyable a place as possible, said Wendy Braicks, Vashon Park District’s executive director. Staff are weighing their options for installing better lighting at the park, which could deter illegal or illicit activity there.
“This is a high priority for us — to have that park be a place all people can enjoy,” Braicks said.
She said she thought users of the park were, for the most part, using the park correctly.
“These are people who maybe don’t have another place to go at that time,” she said. “That’s what parks are for — for people to sit and enjoy a park. But we also want to make sure they follow the rules.”
After Osborne attended a park meeting and voiced his concerns about the green, Braicks contacted King County Sheriff’s officials about the small park and asked officers to keep an eye out for illegal activity. Braicks also encourages Islanders to call 911 if they see anything suspicious or illegal happening at the Village Green.
Officers said that, after hearing from Braicks and other Islanders, they plan to have an increased presence at the Green.
“I’ve assigned a few deputies to work on that project,” said King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Calvin Berringer, who oversees Vashon Island. All officers “working on the Island are going to be spending a little more time there.”
Braicks said she’s seen no inappropriate use of the Village Green’s permanent bathroom structure, which was erected last year. But some observers of the park say the cinderblock building, which is never locked, is a hotspot for inappropriate and even illegal activity.
“We have a sharps bin in that restroom, and it’s apparently full every week,” said David Hackett, a park commissioner. “That would be a pretty strong indication of drug activity.”
Park employees check in on the bathroom almost daily, Braicks said, emptying the trash, cleaning up the area and emptying the “sharps bin,” a container for used hypodermic needles. The box was installed at the request of park district maintenance workers, who had been plucking used needles out of the bushes at the park before the box was installed.
“Better to be emptying a box than sticking your finger in a needle that was left in the shrubbery,” Braicks said. “It was a safety decision” to install the sharps box there.
On Friday afternoon, two observers stopped to check out the Village Green and its new bathroom.
Though the park was empty, the bathroom was occupied when the pair arrived; several minutes later a male-and-female couple who had been using the restroom vacated it and quickly exited the park. The bathroom smelled of acrid smoke, and a tar-encrusted paper towel sat in the trash can. The sharps bin, however, was empty.
Seven hours later, though the bathroom was still quite clean, there were 14 used needles in the sharps bin, and someone had left behind a makeshift pipe crafted from an aluminum can.
“It’s appalling,” Roberts said. “They’re using the bathroom to do drugs. I know it’s happening.”
One regular user of the park, a homeless man, defended himself and his group of friends.
“We’re good people,” he said. “I stay away from the kids and families.”
Still, he acknowledged that others who frequent the park engage in prohibited and illegal activity there.
People drink alcohol and sell and use drugs there, though he believes the drug use is limited to marijuana, he said.
And while he allows his dog Angel in the park, and knows others who do the same, he tries to be a considerate park user, he said.
“I keep the dog away from the people who are eating food, and I never let her go to the bathroom in the park,” he said. “But she can be in the park.”
The fact that homeless people spend their days at the Village Green is an indication that the Island’s homeless population of about 30 people has a great need for a “day room” — somewhere they can get out of the rain, sit and read and make or receive phone calls, Amiad said.
Because there’s nothing like that on Vashon, some of the community’s homeless opt to pass time under the Village Green’s simple covered wood structure instead.
Amiad knows many of the people who frequent the green, she said, and she doesn’t think any of them pose a threat to the general Island population.
“I know these people and their stories,” Amiad said. “I know them by name. Some of them have mental health issues. Some have other chronic issues. … But I’ve never felt unsafe near the green.”