The photos and videos from Afghanistan are about as gut-wrenching as it gets, but this week’s images of 30 or more people standing amid piles of their belongings on a Yakima sidewalk are heartbreaking, too.
Until Monday, they were residents of the Savoy Apartments on West Yakima Avenue. Now … who knows?
It’s one of those examples of bad stuff flowing downhill.
Yakima city officials condemned the dilapidated building in April, notifying the owner, Aaron Stewart, of numerous violations of health and safety codes. Four months later, the 115-plus-year-old edifice remained out of compliance.
So this week, city officials did what city officials do in these circumstances: They evicted all the residents and boarded up the joint.
We doubt Stewart’s home is infested with bugs, or has feces on the floor, holes in the walls, doors that don’t lock or fire escapes that wouldn’t save a soul. If it did, maybe he’d make a point of doing something about it.
He apparently didn’t do anything about any of those problems at the Savoy, however.
Instead, his tenants — many of them sick, elderly and suffering from personal tragedies of their own — are now looking at lifestyle options that could go all the way down to living out of cars or pushing shopping carts around town.
To be fair, city officials gave the tenants 10 days’ notice of the eviction and listed local agencies that might offer emergency housing help.
And to their credit, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services came forward immediately, offering vouchers for temporary hotel stays. Camp Hope stepped up, too, making it clear that they have room for more people in their tents for the homeless.
From our comfortable homes, we ask the obvious questions: Why didn’t the tenants move if it was such an awful place? Surely they had some time to see this coming?
Sure. Hindsight’s pretty good. But considering local housing costs, most of them probably didn’t have a lot of alternatives. Why else would they have moved into a place like the Savoy to begin with?
The tragedy here is that the very people city building codes are meant to protect are the same ones who are now out in the street. Did enforcing those codes truly help them? In the big picture, yes. We don’t want people living in dangerous buildings.
On the other hand, if you’re out on the sidewalk next to a stack of your stuff all night, are you any better off?
We’re not sure what the answer is, but this doesn’t seem like what it should look like.
We’re sympathetic to the quandary city officials face as they push back against unsafe housing. We just hope they’re thoroughly considering the consequences of this type of action for the people who get caught in the middle.
Mostly, we think it’s sad that it all had to come to this.