What might the island look like after this?

It is worth considering what the aftermath of the pandemic could change for residents of this island

A day before claiming a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting on Boeing’s 737 MAX jet scandals, The Seattle Times’ Project Homelessness initiative this week asked if the city’s sudden, urgent response to protecting those who are housing insecure from COVID-19 will prove long lasting.

Officials entirely bypassed months of paperwork and infighting to rapidly construct a cluster of temporary tiny houses in the Central District. They have reopened targeted restrooms, provided for meals, conducted expanded outreach, deployed clinical support teams to homeless services sites and more in an attempt to reduce pathways of transmission for the virus.

Advocates have taken notice and The Times reports there is hope that this is the beginning of a profound change in how Seattle, and very well the nation, may address homelessness going forward, a breathtaking crisis long before the novel coronavirus claimed nearly 70,000 American lives.

Here on Vashon-Maury Island, some topics in our community occasionally emerge as flash-points, generating tumultuous conversation on social media or elsewhere before dimming. But it is a worthy endeavor to consider what the aftermath of the pandemic could change for the better for residents of this island.

It is an undeniable fact that the island’s cost of living is prohibitively high for many, affecting all walks of life from those who have called the island home for years to those seeking to plant their roots here or start a family. Some of this is driven by the island itself, amid the high taxes islanders pay to live here. Efforts are underway to make a difference in the availability of affordable housing on the island, and yet there are few tenable solutions to this unresolved problem beyond constructing more places to live that will remain within reach for all in perpetuity.

This idea is unfavorable for a number of islanders who do not wish to see the rural character of the island vanish behind newly constructed buildings. Others do not trust those who require such accommodations. But we must confront the reality that some in this community struggle greatly: Last month, IFCH case manager Nancy Vanderpool reminded The Beachcomber that more than 100 individuals on Vashon “do not sleep in buildings with roofs over their heads.”

The coronavirus is almost certain to push those who are already vulnerable, who are living on the razor’s edge, toward devastating outcomes. What, if any, meaningful action might be inspired by the plight of our neighbors?

It must be said that islanders have shown themselves to be generous and giving people time and time again. But language in the past used by some about the island’s cost of living — namely the talking point that those who cannot afford to live here simply do not have the right to — has no place in the community’s response to this complex problem going forward.

On a different note, as farmers markets in Washington have only begun to prepare to reopen, and members of the Vashon Island Growing Association mull over how to host the island’s popular market this year, if at all possible, there has been an increase in activity at Vashon’s many farms stands, where islanders may purchase fresh produce and quality meat. We cannot be sure what the near future may hold for supply chains in the state and nation, but we should all want to promote and connect growers and access to good, healthy food.

Other changes already forced by COVID-19 have occurred at this newspaper, and the staff members who have not lost their jobs continue to brainstorm ways that The Beachcomber may better serve and inform you.

No doubt we are entering a period of time that will test us all. But we should strive to emerge from it ready to meet both the difficult challenges that will arise and those we continue to grapple with, knowing that meaningful action has been spurred here before and can be again. As a community all we must do is face this time with the gravity it demands, and rise to the occasion wherever apparent to strengthen the bonds between us. You are the best of this community, readers, and after this time has passed we hope the island reflects the excellence you share with one another for years to come.

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