Tents beat alternative for homeless migrant workers living in

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 8 Jun 1999 20:32:29 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Seattle Times EDITORIAL - Tuesday, June  8, 1999


NEW state rules that allow growers to provide store-bought camping tents,
along with basic amenities, offer a practical alternative to migrant cherry
workers sleeping in their cars.

     Washington growers are not required to provide any housing, and they
are especially reluctant to do so for the short, intense cherry harvest now
under way.

     Revised rules sought by the Locke administration, and recently adopted
by the state Department of Health, have collided with the U.S. Department
of Labor, which said they fall short of federal occupational safety

     Certainly, no bragging rights go with this kind of temporary housing,
but growers who meet this minimal standard are required to provide clean
sites, safe water, toilets, showers, coolers and lighting. Growers who
participate get three years to bring in electricity - via power lines or
generators - for mechanical refrigeration and lights. These are glorified
campgrounds but they provide potable water and a safer place to cook, sleep
and clean up.

     Those same migrant workers and their families, which can number 16,000
for the short cherry season, will be here anyway. They will be scattered in
makeshift camps along rivers and in the woods, with no water, no food
storage, no showers and the bushes for bathrooms.

     The federal government wants the growers to provide sturdy,
military-style tents with flooring, but the vast majority of growers have
been unwilling to make that level of investment. The state is trying to
help encourage participation with a rent-a-tent program that gives growers
access to the larger tents that are erected on a platform.

     With the state and feds at odds, growers are weary of getting caught
in the middle, and the handful who committed to the state plan have mostly
pulled back. A lot has happened fast, and the confusion is both real and a
handy dodge.

     Gov. Locke has done good work on migrant housing, and he was
especially distressed by the circumstances of hard-working people living in
unsanitary conditions. The state's latest approach is intended to deal with
a particular housing crisis for one crop in a regulatory environment where
growers are not obligated to provide any shelter.

     All the debates, all the grower-labor tensions, all the regulations
should not conspire to make perfection the enemy of vastly improved living

     Migrant tent camps during cherry season are a realistic, doable
alternative to living in cars.


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