Officer Mel Lolmaugh, Oak Harbor Police Department, carefully steps over the trash in an area known as The Pit off of Goldie Road. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Officer Mel Lolmaugh, Oak Harbor Police Department, carefully steps over the trash in an area known as The Pit off of Goldie Road. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

No clear solution to garbage, needles in homeless camp

Those going into an area on the island known as “the pit” are often told they should wear shoes that aren’t too valuable.

The piece of private land off Goldie Road on North Whidbey is an area known to law enforcement and social workers as a common place for homeless encampments to pop up. Although the number of people who reside there fluctuates, there are always signs of life everywhere. Tents, tarps, hypodermic needles, discarded clothes and piles upon piles of trash. It’s a well-known issue among public officials and some residents, but few seem to know what needs to be done.

“We’ve never received any formal complaints about the pit or garbage there,” said Keith Higman, Island County public health director.

Because it’s located on private property, Higman’s staff couldn’t investigate without either a written complaint or administrative search warrant, he said.

Capt. Bill Wilke of the Oak Harbor Police Department said the property owner has reached out to the department seeking assistance removing the people who live there.

There seems to be a near-constant cycle of people being cleared out, or clearing out on their own, and then later slowly returning or being replaced by newcomers, according to Richard West, a county social worker. West previously worked as lead community corrections officer for Washington State Superior Court probations division and said he frequently visited the area in his position.

He sometimes found only abandoned camps and other times he encountered 20 people living there at once.

The approximately-nine-acre parcel is owned by Tiproc Corporation, based out of Menlo Park, Calif.

According to the Island County Assessor’s website, the corporation acquired the land in 2006. Kristi Jensen, a real estate agent who worked on the transaction, said the owners originally wanted to develop the site but changed their mind. She said the property went back on the market a couple of months ago. Tiproc couldn’t be reached for comment.

There is no visible fence around most of the area and there are no garbage cans, dumpsters or toilets. West said he’s encountered a number of potentially hazardous items there, such as broken glass, used hypodermic needs, propane tanks and sometimes human waste.

He also met a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations.

“You have some people just tying to survive,” West said. “People there going to work, it just happens to be the situation they’re in, as well as people there because of what the situation attracts.”

Island County Sheriff Rick Felici and Wilke said neither department knows of any program to distribute trash bags nor do their personnel do so.

Ultimately, it’s the property owner who’s responsible for cleaning the garbage, Wilke said. There’s limited information about Tiproc Corporation online. Its address is in what appears to be a residential neighborhood. Manta, an online database of small businesses, said it has approximately two employees and an annual revenue of just over $75,000.

West said he sometimes found the area attracted people who weren’t homeless but came because of the drug or alcohol scene. Other times, he found people actively avoiding those kinds of activities.

Some social workers, such as the county’s opioid outreach coordinator Dennis Phillips, have been to the area a couple of times to help connect addicts to treatment.

When searching the area in January during the annual Point in Time homeless population count, Phillips found signs of drug use in the area but no people.

Officer Mel Lolmaugh, Oak Harbor Police Department, points out to Cynthia Besaw, county veterans resource coordinator areas homeless individuals have been known to occupy in an area called The Pit off Goldie Road. He accompanied Besaw and other volunteers to the area during the annual Point in Time homeless population count in January. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Officer Mel Lolmaugh, Oak Harbor Police Department, points out to Cynthia Besaw, county veterans resource coordinator areas homeless individuals have been known to occupy in an area called The Pit off Goldie Road. He accompanied Besaw and other volunteers to the area during the annual Point in Time homeless population count in January. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

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