Neighbors rally for evicted Brookhaven resident

Evi Jones and Pat Locke are good friends and neighbors. Jones supports Locke during his eviction ordeal. - Michaela Marx Wheatley
Evi Jones and Pat Locke are good friends and neighbors. Jones supports Locke during his eviction ordeal.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley

LANGLEY — With his coarse voice, his sunburned worker’s hands and jerky mannerism, Pat Locke appears a little rough around the edges. Maybe even intimidating to some.

But he knows everything there is to know about septic systems and he’s also quick to tell you that he likes to talk on his CB radio.

Locke volunteers to shovel snow in the winter and brings groceries to elderly neighbors. His friends and neighbors call the mentally disabled Brookhaven resident a “super helper” and a “kind-hearted guy.”

The Housing Authority of Island County, Locke’s landlord at Brookhaven, sees him as a trouble-maker. The housing authority has evicted Locke after 12 years at the public housing facility for allegedly violating his lease agreement and bothering a neighbor.

A pile of support letters from Locke’s neighbors — including a petition signed by more than 20 residents — was sent to the housing authority in the hopes that Locke could stay.

But on Aug. 31, Judge Alan Hancock sided with the housing authority and upheld his eviction in Island County Superior Court.

By midnight Sept. 30, Locke will be homeless.

Locke did what he could to keep his home. During the civil trial, he was forced to represent himself because he couldn’t afford a lawyer. But what’s great entertainment on TV shows like “Judge Judy” turned out to be a nightmare for Locke in this real life drama.

When he went before the judge, Locke was nervous. His body was shaking. And many of the people who wanted to speak out his support were silenced by the judge.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Locke recalled.

Still, he made the best case he could. He also tried to ask for more time to better prepare.

“I am extremely anxious over this situation, because I don’t have anywhere to go to live. I would be homeless,” Locke wrote in his motion for a continuance. “I have a support group with my neighbors and significant help from my church.”

But because the eviction had followed its prescribed process, there was nothing more the judge could do.

Locke’s supporters are outraged.

Pastor Bob Welch of the Christian Missionary Alliance Church said he tried hard to guide Locke through his ordeal and went to court with Locke last week.

“He shook like a leaf,” Welch recalled.

“He’s disabled,” the pastor added. “He hardly understood the questions.”

Locke asked the judge if Welch could speak for him, but Welch was only allowed as a witness. And because it was a civil case, Locke was in court without legal representation.

“If he had done a crime, he’d get a public defender,” Welch said.

Watching Locke struggle through the court proceedings was frustrating.

“The helplessness we had was watching him trying to defend himself, with a high-falutin’ lawyer on the other side,” Welch said.

“The neighbors are upset because Pat is a helpful neighbor. For me — the system is broken if a disabled person is thrown to the wolves like that,” he added.

Welch said if he would have been allowed to speak for Locke the outcome of the hearing may have been different.

Housing authority officials said the court proceedings and eviction were fair.

Steve Guilliford, executive director of the Housing Authority of Island County, said Locke was made aware of help that was available to him for the court proceedings.

“Judge Hancock was very fair. In fact, he bent over backwards to make sure Mr. Locke would be represented properly,” Guilliford said.

Guilliford said the housing agency gave Locke multiple chances before they started the eviction process.

“As the record will show, we have tried to work with Mr. Locke for at least five years to work through his problems,” Guilliford said.

“We generally try to work with our tenants. In Mr. Locke’s case, the same problem has been resurfacing,” Guilliford added.

Evictions at Brookhaven are rare, he said.

“We probably had three or four in the last five years,” he added.

Locke’s eviction was the culmination of a number of violations of his lease agreement. Court records show there were complaints about Locke. Some were about Locke burning wood instead of briquettes in his barbecue, and his CB radio antenna interfering with other tenants’ television reception.

“But, when they told me, I took the antenna down and I stopped burning the wood,” Locke said.

Housing officials cite more serious offenses as reasons for the eviction.

“The most recent complaint was that he was pounding on the tenant’s window. She was so afraid that she wouldn’t come out to get her mail anymore,” Guilliford said.

Locke’s supporters, however, said he was only trying to bring the woman a gallon of water when the main water pipe broke and residents were left without water.

“I only tried to help,” Locke said.

Neighbors say the complaining party is a new neighbor who moved in within the last year. She’s since complained repeatedly about Locke to the housing authority and police.

Locke said he doesn’t know what he has done to offend his neighbor.

“She never liked me,” Locke said with a simple shrug of his shoulders.

Evi Jones, a neighbor of Locke’s, said the conflict was fueled by the daughter of the tenant who complained.

Jones added that a number of Brookhaven residents have problems, ranging from mental illness to old age. She recalled one neighbor with schizophrenia who is regularly obtrusive.

“The police don’t hassle him,” she said.

“They say he (Locke) bothers the woman. Are they saying everybody else has the right to live in peace but Pat?” Jones asked.

Jones added that police and the housing authority have instructed the neighbors to stay out of the conflict. But Locke’s supportive neighbors aren’t backing down.

“We have our own minds. We can think for ourselves,” Jones said.

Locke’s friends said the complaints are based on misunderstanding and fear.

Neighbor Yvonne Smith said the neighbor who complained about Locke simply misunderstands Locke’s actions.

“She doesn’t understand him. He is very intense. This lady is very timid. Pat’s countenance, his walk - she has overreacted to his mannerisms,” Smith said.

Concerning the window incident, neighbor Evi Jones said Locke does sometimes knock on peoples’ doors or windows. Usually it’s to ask if he can help or drop something off.

Jones added that Locke has always respected her space and privacy if she told him that she had no time for him.

However, complaints have been frequent and always resembled past occurrences, Guilliford said. Eventually the housing authority began the eviction process.

Guilliford, citing privacy concerns, would not say who had complained about Locke.

He said he understands that neighbors are emotional about Locke’s eviction.

“But it’s also an emotional issue for the people that complained,” Guilliford said. “As any landlord, we have a responsibility to all our tenants. If one tenant disturbs the other tenants, it’s time for him to find a new place.”

Many of the Brookhaven neighbors were also upset that the housing authority did not respond to their letters. Guilliford said he understands that Locke’s friends and neighbors are concerned. But, to protect the privacy of the complaining party, he was not going to discuss specifics with the other tenants.

Friends and neighbors are quick to admit that Locke isn’t perfect, but they say he is not dangerous.

Smith said Locke has struggled with drinking at times.

“There are sweet drunks and there are mean drunks. Pat is among the sweet ones. He wouldn’t harm anyone,” she said.

Welch said that Locke makes every effort to correct his mistakes.

“He’s been talked to (by the housing authority) for bothering people,” Welch said.

Locke attends the CMA church regularly.

“He is here two, three, four times a day. He helps out a little bit, he comes to the soup kitchen,” Welch said.

Since Locke became involved with church, Welch has been trying to help him with his problems that are brought on by his disability and sometimes alcohol.

“He straightened up a little bit,” Welch said.

“The neighbors like him because he is so helpful,” Welch added. “He’s a super helper.”

Smith agrees.

“I am 84. Sometimes I am a little wobbly on my feet. My grandson got me a cane that I refuse to use. When Pat sees me he offers his arm and walks with me,” Smith said.

“We are a lot of women here and some of us are really old,” Smith said. “Pat offers to carry packages, he brought us water when the water main burst. He is a kind-hearted guy.”

Neighbors in the tight-knit Brookhaven community tend to look out for each other, Smith said.

“We know he is just a little boy, so we look out for him,” Smith said. “We hate to see him mistreated like that because of the hallucinations of one person.”

Locke said he doesn’t want to leave his home of 12 years.

“It’s were I live,” he said.

According to court records, the court requested the parties to help Locke find a new place.

But for now, it’s largely up to Locke. He wants to stay in Langley.

“It’s been his town. When you drive with him, he’ll tell you everybody’s history,” Welch explained.

Locke said he has heard of places for rent, but they are out of his price range.

“This one place is $2,000,” he said.

His body began to shiver again and he turned to Pastor Welch. “Should we look at it,” he asked.

Welch has no answer for Locke.

“Basically, he’s homeless if we don’t find him a place,” Welch said.

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