MOUNT VERNON, Wash — Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include information from city and county officials on efforts to help the homeless population during the floods.
The floodwall held in Mount Vernon this week, protecting businesses in the downtown area as the Skagit River rose, but some of the most vulnerable residents were most affected.
A number of people were displaced from one of the areas impacted – Edgewater Park – which was home to an encampment.
Skagit County and Mount Vernon officials visited the park multiple times to warn the people living there, and help them find emergency shelter, county Communications Director Lara Han said.
Prior to the historic flooding, four people had to be rescued after being stranded in floodwaters on Oct. 29. They suffered minor injuries and were taken to a shelter after they were treated at a local ER, according to Han.
Police and sheriff’s deputies had visited the park multiple times ahead of the initial flooding, and county and city officials had found shelter options for people evacuating the park.
While a few people returned to the area prior to the major flood that impacted the area earlier this week, the sheriff’s office and Mount Vernon police visited the area multiple times between Nov. 10-12. Everyone in the park during those visits agreed to move to higher ground or to a shelter, Han said.
Valerie McCormack, community outreach specialist for Community Action of Skagit County, knows all too well what it's like to be without a home, in a vulnerable position.
"It's heartbreaking,” she said.
Once homeless herself, McCormack now works to provide resources for those living on the streets.
This shines a light on the greater issue: a housing crisis in Skagit County.
"Not only is there a shortage of affordable housing but we also have no emergency drop-in shelter for people who just might find themselves homeless because of an emergency,” said Elizabeth Jennings, director of community engagement for Community Action of Skagit County.
There were emergency shelters and housing, including ones set up by the Red Cross and local churches for those impacted by flooding. However, Community Action of Skagit County said more needs to be done to prepare for events just like this in the future.
"It's not a problem that's insurmountable. We can solve this together with a combination of federal, state and local resources, zoning that allows for affordable housing, funders that allow for projects that can be done quickly rather than taking years and years to develop,” said Jennings.
"There are some pretty resilient people out there and it is so easy to pass judgment, but we just don't know. Everybody has a story, and everybody matters… everybody matters,” said McCormack.
The county and cities in the area are working on projects to bring more affordable housing to Skagit County.
Han said the county and local cities want to find a solution for the housing crisis, but need support from state and federal entities to fully tackle the problem.
Community Action of Skagit County is working to address the immediate needs of those both currently homeless, or whose housing situation was left uncertain by flooding. They are accepting donations to help with their efforts.