Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze said the city has yet been unable to come up with any workable ideas to remove the camp of homeless people that has been growing in recent months in the woods at the Highway 305/High School Road intersection.
The camp has prompted multiple calls, and responses, from Bainbridge police in recent months. Police and the fire department have responded to reports of campfires in the woods at the camp, which sits near the Chevron gas station, as well as an alleged assault between the residents of the camp, and two drug overdoses.
Schulze recently briefed the city council on Bainbridge’s efforts to deal with the problems posed by the camp. He said the city had been contacted by the Washington State Department of Transportation, which owns the land next to the highway where the homeless encampment is located, as well as the property owner of the gas station, who was worried about open burning occurring in the woods next to the gas station. Officials are also concerned about garbage and human waste collecting on the site.
The property owner wanted the people camping there removed, Schulze said.
WSDOT officials also asked if the city could assist in removing the campers, with the coordination of the agency and the Washington State Patrol.
Schulze said the city reminded state officials that Bainbridge was not the owner of the property next to the highway.
“Initially our reaction was, ‘That’s your right of way,’” Schulze recalled.
Officials said they want to find a place for the homeless that is lasting, and one where they won’t be asked to leave again and again.
While officials have been talking about different approaches to solving the problem, no easy answers have been found.
“They still wouldn’t be camping there if we had good options.
“We’re still looking,” Schulze added.
The city does not have public property nearby that would be suited, he said, and Bainbridge’s “tent city” ordinance was not written in a way that would allow island churches to provide temporary housing space.
A visit to the homeless camp by a Review reporter late last week found just two people living in the camp, with another two people living in the woods along Highway 305 about 75 yards north of the main encampment.
Both men living in the camp said they had been liveaboards in Eagle Harbor before moving to the woods. One camper said he had been living there for the past five years.
Two tents were visible, with one partially hidden with camouflage cover, and a blue-and-green hammock had been strung from a large bamboo pole tied to two Douglas fir trees. A makeshift table with cooking gear was set up next to a rock-lined campfire, with a wheelchair sitting nearby.
One resident pointed out that trash was being kept bagged and lined up in an orderly fashion at the edge of the camp.
Both men said they do not drink, and that the two drug users who had been in the camp went to Seattle and had not come back.
Bainbridge Police Matthew Hamner said in a later interview that homeless people have been camping in that spot for 10 years or longer, but that a recent increase in their numbers has made the camp more visible to islanders and passersby on the highway.
“As soon as it became visible and increased by two or three bodies, it became very prominent,” he said.
Police have received numerous calls from residents about the camp, as well as people dropping by the police station who were worried about it.
Hamner said the camp appears to have roughly five residents, although others have come and gone for short periods of time.
“It’s always a concern to us anytime somebody is homeless and living in that kind of environment,” Hamner said. “We worry about their health, and clean water and sanitation, and food, and worry about them having their primary needs met.”
“Being homeless is not a crime,” he added, and said city officials are still trying “to work out a very thoughtful solution.”
Hamner said the department estimates that about 25 people in total on Bainbridge are homeless, with approximately eight people living in the woods, and the rest sleeping in cars or other places.