As soon as a statewide eviction moratorium lapses, those who have been bedding down at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds will be left looking for a new place to live. In anticipation of the …
As soon as a statewide eviction moratorium lapses, those who have been bedding down at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds will be left looking for a new place to live. In anticipation of the currently-projected expiration date of June 30, city and county officials along with representatives from local service providers have been meeting with a group of residents at the fairgrounds and other concerned parties to hopefully mitigate the coming exodus of campers.
“The plan … is for the campground to shut down at that point to all campers,” Brotherton said. “The county and the city and the other service agencies are committed to finding a safe landing spot for the campers.”
While addressing those gathered in the 4H building near the entrance to the fairgrounds, Brotherton noted that in many cases, the actions of the few have given a bad name to all of those who’ve sought refuge at the fairgrounds.
“We’re recognizing the successes that we’ve had here and also the impacts that we’ve had on the neighborhood,” he said.
“We talked here last time with the campers as well as the service providers of how often it’s a minority of the people who create a majority of the impacts that unfortunately ends up painting the whole population with one brush.”
“We’re working hard to dispel those prejudices, but we do need to find a place,” the commissioner continued. “We’re trying to understand what’s important … what’s worked at the fairgrounds and what hasn’t worked.”
To that end, each of the attendees of the meeting were offered a 10-question survey on what they would like to see at a new location to help guide the county’s acquisition of usable land.
But time is quickly running out.
“Does it have to be in town?” Brotherton asked one of the attendees.
“It doesn’t have to be in town,” responded Daniel Overbey, one of the campers currently staying at the fairgrounds. “It could be in your backyard.”
Brotherton noted that the county, in collaboration with the city of Port Townsend, have signed a letter of intent to acquire a 14-acre piece of property for the purposes of turning it into a campus for those experiencing homelessness.
“We’re looking at developing a housing hub that brings together permanent supportive housing, emergency shelter, some camping and the housing services and social services in one place to provide the best possible responses,” Brotherton said.
The commissioner added that it was his goal to have the 14-acre site ready for campers to move in before the arrival of the colder winter weather in December.
But he said steep slopes at the site could serve to undo the work they’ve already put in.
“It could be that it comes back and the critical areas … might prevent that property from working out,” he said. “Even the fairgrounds has not been a cheap proposition. This is not capitalism at work here, this is government support. We’ve invested over $100,000 in the services and support structure for the fairground.”
Overbey suggested that those who have a stake in the fairgrounds could earn their right to stay onsite in the interim by cleaning it up.
“I’ve appreciated what we’ve gotten here and we’d love to help get it back into shape,” Overbey said. “Let us be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Doug Edelstein opposed the move to push out the campers once evictions resume.
“The upcoming move, the sweep of the fairgrounds is profoundly unethical because it is unnecessary,” said Edelstein, a Kala Point resident who lives in the cul-de-sac community south of Fort Townsend Historical State Park.
“Courts around the country have held that sweeps violate First Amendment rights in the sense of freedom of expression; they violate Fourth Amendments rights given the confiscation and loss of personal property without due process of law; and, in particular, they violate Eighth Amendment guarantees, against cruel and unusual punishment,” he said. “The act of being expelled from your home, even if your home is a tent or a set of tarps, is an act of cruelty. It’s traumatic.”
Noting Port Townsend’s reputation as an ethical community, Edelstein said he didn’t believe that the residents of the city would back the closure of the fairgrounds and therein, the displacement of its residents.
“This community does not want to be party to what will happen at the end of the sweep,” he said. “It will criminalize homelessness in this community. There will be no other place to live that is not illegal, aside from what the government can put together.”
Two clear outcomes, Edelstein said, would directly result from the homeless being forced out of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
“[The first] Port Townsend will be one of the communities around the country that will go down as criminalizing homelessness fully.”
The second, Edelstein said, would be that by forcibly removing the campers from the grounds, those tasked with removing the campers will be performing an “act of cruelty.”
Edelstein said if no other avenues exist for the campers to pursue a reasonable compromise, the only one that remains will be resistance.
“The only way that homeless people can generate power is by acts of civil disobedience,” he said. “By forming a community, getting legal representation and indulging in non-violent civil disobedience.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, I sincerely do,” he added.