Perry Harris took advantage of the Memorial Day crowd heading to Maple Leaf Cemetery to stage a noisy but peaceful one-man protest over the closure of a trailer park.
“What did they die for — for us to be kicked out?!,” Harris demanded of passersby Monday morning.
He got some curious looks, but it didn’t appear that anyone stopped to help or ask any questions. He shouted for others living inside the trailers to come out and join his protest, buy nobody budged. Later in the day, however, several appeared for the KOMO-TV cameras.
Ron Wallin of P&L Construction in Oak Harbor said he and the owners of the park, Mike and Mary Foreman of Las Vegas, have been unfairly “raked over the coals” because of the park closure.
“There has been a constant influx of notices at the park since January of 2007…” he said. “Nobody has paid rent. They are two to four months behind in rent.”
Regardless, Harris was clearly frustrated by the situation. Monday, he stood amidst several white and pink sheets tacked to poles, like flags, and near what he calls his “life boat.” It’s the beginnings of a camper for the back of his 1985 Ford pickup, which is where he intends to live when he leaves the trailer park. He said the pink sheet symbolizes the blood of Oak Harbor residents, which isn’t as red as he’d like it to be, otherwise someone would try to help. The white sheets are souvenirs from his old Navy ships.
To add to the atmosphere, a boom box blared out two songs. “Born in the USA” and “This Land is Your Land” played over and over again. But Harris never did attract an audience, and his protest ended soon after the Memorial Day service.
Harris is the longest-term resident of M&M Mobile Home Park, located adjacent to the cemetery. He moved in nine years ago. He estimates 16 families have to leave to make room for a new mortuary and pet crematorium.
A five-year Navy veteran, Harris works odd construction jobs. He’s not so worried about himself. Once he gets a $300 check later this month he can buy $130 worth of plywood and finish his camper. Then he can live there, cooking chicken on a propane stove. But he worries that others will end up on the street.
Harris complains that the one-month notice to leave wasn’t enough, and that no one has seen any money to help with moving expenses. Although there are state laws requiring mobile home park owners to provide longer notice and moving help, those laws apparently don’t apply at M&M, where tenants live on a month-to-month basis. With no leases, they can be forced out in 30 days.
But Wallin said the final notice shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Besides the posted signs, he said he told some residents that the closure would probably come in June, though most residents claimed they thought they had until this fall. Wallin said the notices were sent as soon as the city set the date for the hearing examiner.
On top of everything, Wallin said at least one trailer in contaminated with methamphetamine and the others must be tested for meth, asbestos and lead so that special precautions can be taken when they are demolished.
For those moving out, they will likely find it’s not a good time for low-income residents to be looking for a home on North Whidbey. Lisa Clark, the director of the Opportunity Council of Island County, said there’s a long waiting list for the group’s six units of shelter. Last year, 292 families signed onto the list, but only 25 households were helped.
Clark said the Opportunity Council offers rental assistance to folks in need, but people who’ve received the assistance within the last 12 months don’t qualify for more.
Affordable housing remains hard to come by on Whidbey. It’s simply an expensive place to live.
“If rent is $700 and families are only making $1,000 a month, that’s difficult,” she said.
Her organization has seen a great increase over the last year in the number of people requesting assistance of different kinds. She said options are limited for those facing homelessness.
Her best advice is for people to “look to family and friends for help.”
As for Harris, he has a backup plan if the check he’s hoping for doesn’t arrive. He’s already contacted appliance dealers in town for housing.
“I’ll live out of a cardboard box,” he said.
Assistant Editor Jessie Stensland contributed to this story.