County plans cleanup at roadside camp

County officials plan to clean up trash next week at a roadside homeless camp on North Whidbey.

County officials plan to clean up trash and junk next week at a roadside homeless camp on North Whidbey.

Island County Sheriff Rick Felici said law enforcement, the county public works employees and staff from Human Services will arrive at the Hoffman Road camp Wednesday morning. Public works employees are bringing equipment to clean up the refuse that has accumulated over the last few months. Mental health, housing and opioid outreach staff will offer assistance to the people who are living in RVs, cars and tents on the side of the county road.

Felici said he will be there to spread the word about the state of the camp. He said he understands the people living on the side of the road are in a tough spot in their lives, but he wants them to know that doesn’t give them the right to blight the community.

“We’re not going to play anymore,” he said. “We are not going to accept this level of filth anymore.”

The county posted signs on Hoffman Road, alerting the people to the county’s cleanup plans. The county may use grant funds to place a dumpster and port-a-potties at the site for people to use. The sheriff emphasized that the county isn’t sweeping people out of the homeless camp, just the trash.

Felici admitted that there is apprehension on the part of county employees who are tasked with cleaning up the site, especially with the lack of bathroom facilities in the area. He encouraged them to use machinery as much as possible.

Felici has been working with other county officials for weeks about possible solutions to the problem. His options are limited because of case law that protects the rights of homeless people. Martin v. Boise, a 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, states that anti-camping ordinances cannot be enforced on public property if not enough homeless shelters are available. Additionally, the City of Seattle v. Long was a 2021 Washington Supreme Court decision that states a vehicle cannot be impounded if someone is using it as a residence.

Other considerations, Felici said, are just practical. Moving people from one site just means they will go somewhere else in the community.

Deputies will investigate whether any of the vehicles parked on the road are abandoned, but Felici said it’s a complicated process. They have to investigate records to find the owner and figure out if anyone is living inside. Tow companies are sometimes reluctant to tow vehicles that are nearly worthless or filled with garbage. Getting an RV towed, the sheriff explained, can cost as much as $5,000 and his office has limited funds for such things.

Photo by Rachel Rosen/Whidbey News-Times