By Russ and Tiña De Maris
An incredible series of events involving “homeless RVers” unfolded in Seattle this week, in a style that could have been scripted for a comedy TV series. For several months, some homeless people having been camping next to a Jewish cemetery in the area. Some, with low standards of conduct, have been dumping trash and otherwise fouling up the area, to the point that cemetery supporters have been up in arms with local government for a solution. The matter went so far that activists literally “made a stink” by dumping large amounts of fertilizer on the cemetery lawn in an effort to put up an obnoxious odor that might encourage the unwelcome street-parkers to move along. But this week, things really started moving.
In the midst of all the fuss, local activist and member of the cemetery board of directors Ari Hoffman decided on another course. Hoffman sent an e-mail to city council members, detailing all the difficulties with the unwelcome “guests,” and reminding them how he had repeatedly asked the city to take action. Then he added an ultimatum: “I have a friend with a auto body shop who has agreed to lend me his tow truck which I will use to tow the RVs from the cemeteries and my office to the nearest council member homes. In this case that will be the homes of council president Bruce Harrell and Council Member Deborah Juarez. I will also be sure to video the process.”
Last Monday, Hoffman appeared on a local radio talk show with a host by the name of Dori Monson. Hoffman and Monson, on-air, discussed the possibility of purchasing an abandoned RV, locking it to prevent entry, then dumping it in front of a council member’s home – and placing signs on it to indicate to the public just how much a problem the matter of homeless RVers has become.
On Wednesday, one can only imagine the feelings of Seattle city council member Lisa Herbold when she looked out her window and spotted a travel trailer, filled with junk, parked in front of her home. At some point, someone spray-painted “Dori for Gov” on the side of the trailer. Herbold quickly released a statement which said, in part, “This is not the first time a RV has been parked in front of my house. What is a first for me are the stunts like the one we saw last night – with individuals taking matters into their own hands, and doing so to create political theatre, not productive solutions.”
By the time Friday dawned, it turned out, this was no political theater – just one of those “You couldn’t plan it better” events that just happen. Enter Briar Rose Williams, a homeless mother looking for a break. Briar Rose spotted a “$1 camper” ad, looked the rig over, and figured with a little de-trashing and a lot of cleaning she and her little family might just get a leg up on getting off the streets. Her godfather said she could move the trailer to his property in Kitsap County, and Briar Rose just needed a spot to leave the trailer long enough for her to get it suitable for living in.
Briar Rose had no clue who lived in the house where she temporarily parked the rig. No idea that anyone would spray paint the side of her new home. And certainly no idea that she was a part in the machinery of a major political upheaval.
It’s made for major news in the Seattle area. And it landed Briar Rose Williams a spot in the guest chair on Dori Monson’s radio talk show. An obviously overwhelmed Monson said he didn’t know which of his listeners had spray-painted the trailer, and didn’t want Briar Rose to be put out. He handed her $100 before the show was over.
Briar Rose Williams’ part in Monson’s show may be over. But the RV homeless situation in Seattle – as in many big cities around the country – is a show that’s far from over.
Update Oct. 16 from Tim Harris, the Founding Director of Real Change:
A three-day tow warning was issued by the city. A KIRO radio reporter broke in and tweeted a video of the trash and clothes inside the RV. Someone vandalized the RV with graffiti. A media circus ensued and an angry mob gathered. A glass bottle was thrown at the couple, and a knife got drawn on Williams.
Happily, cooler heads prevailed. As it became clear that the couple had been victimized, an online campaign raised $5,000 for them overnight.
But the classiest moment of all came when Councilmember Herbold met the couple face to face in front of her house. “I’m really sorry those people threatened you,” she said. She then offered to park her car in the street so they could use her driveway.
That’s what treating people like people looks like, and that’s the Seattle I want to live in.”