The sorry mess in the woods: Who’s to blame? | Editorial

The eviction of a couple dozen homeless people from the woods behind Roseballen is a sad commentary about the state of things in our country. But it’s not an indictment of county government, nor of the woman who owns the property.

Roberta Montana, a Seattle resident, had every right to reclaim her land and order the 20 to 25 homeless men and women to leave.

First, she would have faced a fine had she not done so, since the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services had lodged a code violation against her. Secondly, the site was a mess because of the encampment: Abandoned vehicles, human waste, debris, drug paraphernalia — the detritus of years of human life, without proper sanitation or adequate means to address the mess, had piled up. It was a bad scene.

But how ironic that a few days after the last homeless man was ordered out of the woods, another high-profile eviction, of sorts, took place on Vashon: The Island Elves — currently raising money for Vashon Youth & Family Services — were told they couldn’t do so in our busiest intersection anymore. Turns out it’s against the law, at least according to the King County Sheriff’s interpretation, to stand in an intersection and ask for donations.

The irony is this: The elves were raising money for an agency that, among other things, helps to house the homeless. Prior to this year’s support of VYFS, those industrious elves raised around $20,000 a year for the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank, another mainstay in the lives of our homeless residents.

In this time of under-funded government and a deeply flawed tax structure, this is how social policy gets addressed and social needs met. Those who care about our neighbors in need stand on street corners and ask for money — doing so, in the elves’ case, in colorful costumes and at a busy spot to ensure the greatest success. Homeless people, meanwhile, wake up to the voice of a sheriff’s deputy telling them they’re trespassing. They’d gotten warnings before, but many didn’t leave. Why would they? They had nowhere to go.

One of them got placed at Eernisse Apartments, decent, subsidized housing. It’s not clear if the others would have gone to an apartment or shelter, given the choice; some want the freedom that comes with living in the woods. But the rub is this: There are few choices for the likes of those living in the woods behind Roseballen. Few resources for poor people with mental illness. Little help for those on drugs. No shelters anywhere on Vashon.

We hope Islanders won’t blame the property owner, a woman trying to protect her assets. But maybe we could all dig a little deeper the next time those elves come ringing, wherever it is they end up standing next.


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