The cleanup of a roadside homeless encampment on North Whidbey began this week and will likely be completed by the end of the year.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Hoffman Road was closed off as deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office and a crew from Public Works converged on the area. The crew used heavy equipment to clean up giant piles of garbage that had accumulated on the side of the road.
Two RVs were towed away while the owner of a third one promised to leave as soon as he could get a battery, according to Island County Rick Felici, who was on the scene.
Public Works emptied dump truck loads of dirt in empty spots on the shoulder to stop any vehicles from returning. Felici said the shoulder will eventually become a dirt berm to prevent parking on the road altogether.
Deputies arriving early Wednesday discovered an RV on fire, which was the fourth time that happened this year. The fire department was able to extinguish the blaze quickly. Friday morning, yet another RV fire was reported.
Felici said the process of clearing out RVs, trailers and cars from Hoffman Road has taken much longer than he envisioned earlier in the year. The procedure for tagging the RVs for removal was time consuming and onerous, as was figuring out the legal options, negotiating with towing companies, working with the departments involved and finding a place to take the trashed vehicles.
Felici said he hopes that the process of clearing out the encampment will be complete by the end of the year.
The sheriff explained that Human Services staff and housing advocates have visited the encampment many times with offers of help, but most people living there have declined. The county cleaned up the trash earlier in the year and left a dumpster, but it often overflowed and junk again accumulated on the roadside. Felici said crews had to dig through trash to get to the dumpster.
Felici said the people living on Hoffman Road had plenty of opportunities to move or get help. For more than a month, the road was posted with signs explaining that the cleanup was coming. Deputies warned the owners of RVs tagged for removal the day before.
“The deputies have done a really good job of treating people with dignity,” he said.
Felici estimates that about 20 to 30 people have been living on Hoffman Road regularly while others come and go. About 40 RVs and cars in various states of disrepair were currently parked on the roadside. The owners of some of the drivable RVs have left on their own and found other places to park.
The sheriff said he expects encampments to sprout up in other areas of the county.
“The cleanup of Hoffman Road doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. “It solves the problem for Hoffman Road.”