Shipping containers double as housing for migrant workers in WA

Tom Boland (
Tue, 18 May 1999 23:26:06 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Associated Press - May 4, 1999


     Units will be utilized by migrant cherry pickers

MATTAWA, Washington:

Shipping containers are being renovated as bunkhouses and family living
quarters to shelter some of the hundreds of migrant workers who will come
here to pick cherries this spring.

Eight of the cargo containers are due to arrive soon, part of the $1.4
million Esperanza housing project coordinated by Grant County.

Housing authority director Ken Palek hopes to have at least some of the
units ready when cherry pickers begin to show up at the end of this month.

``This is a pilot project to see what works and what doesn't,'' Palek said.

It's also part of an effort to put an end to the shanty towns that spring
up along the banks of the Columbia River each harvest season. A 1996 state
Department of Health study found that some 37,000 of the state's 62,300
migrant workers had no place to live when they came to Washington.

Many of the homeless laborers end up jammed into trailers or basements or
sleep in their cars or in unsanitary camps along the river.

``The housing here cannot keep up with the demand, especially during
harvest,'' Mayor Judy Esser said.

The containers will be set up on five acres near a laundry, grocery and
other basic services.

``It doesn't do any good to put people far from town,'' Palek said. ``Most
of them don't have reliable transportation to be driving to town for milk
and bread.''

The steel containers will have plumbing, heating and cooling, and the
interiors will resemble those of mobile homes.

The rent will be $6 a day per person or $10 a day for a family, Palek said.
Last summer, some migrant workers told health district staffers that they
would be unwilling to pay anything for  housing.

Palek said there are legitimate costs, such as sewer and water, to be paid
for with rent. But there's another issue as well, he said.

``If you give someone something for nothing, they don't know its worth,''
he said.


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