By Laurelle Walsh
Methow Valley residents are accustomed to seeing travelers pass through in cars and RVs, on motorcycles, bicycles and the occasional horse; once in a while a backpacker passes through on foot. Most travelers stay in hotels or established campgrounds, but there are also “boondockers” who catch a few “Zs” along the side of the highway or in the parking lot of the Winthrop Barn.
The community is comfortable with and generally welcomes visitors of all types, who, like the original Methow natives, traverse the valley corridor and high mountain passes, crossing the Cascades for work or pleasure.
But for the last few weeks the citizens of the Methow Valley have had to grapple with their feelings about a new visitor, a lone traveler whose appearance challenges the accepted norm.
A “homeless” person pulling a loaded shopping cart, the traveler chose to stop in Winthrop at the beginning of November, pitching a makeshift tent just south of the town limits until moving on again on Sunday afternoon
Some had heard she was called “Meanmean,” but the woman clarified while packing her belongings on Sunday: “Meanmean is my vocal name. My real name is Mina.”
Many valley residents became aware of Mina around the middle of October as drivers on the North Cascades Highway reported sightings of a woman with a shopping cart traveling eastward. Concern grew as nighttime temperatures dropped, and the woman inched her way toward the Methow Valley.
Can authorities intervene?
Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow has interacted with Mina on several occasions and finds her to be articulate and seemingly able to take care of herself, he told those in attendance at last Friday’s Community Roundtable.
“It’s very difficult for us in law enforcement,” Budrow said. “Legally we cannot touch her.” He went on to explain that if a person is not endangering themselves or others or breaking the law, there is very little that the police can do for someone like Mina.
Budrow added that he had been in contact with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Department, who told him they had been aware of Mina as she made her way across their county, but had no reason to stop her.
Glenn Schmekel of The Cove in Twisp said Mina would have to ask for help to receive assistance from that organization. “The whole community is talking about this,” but citizens can only help someone to the extent that they will accept that help, Schmekel said.
Beverly Zwar of Okanogan County Behavioral Health Care said, “Everyone has a right to choose their lifestyle,” adding that by law, if someone is endangering themselves, social services has the right to intervene.
After setting up camp near Winthrop, Mina shopped every few days at Winthrop Ace Hardware and Red Apple Market, according to Ace Hardware manager Mason Brandt. “We are worried about her because we know once winter hits, it’s here,” said Brandt, wondering how long Mina would be camped alongside the highway. He also expressed concern that if she continued on toward Twisp, pulling a shopping cart along Highway 20 would be difficult if not dangerous.
Similar concerns prompted Lower Bear Creek resident Jerry Heller to stop and offer help on Sunday when he saw that Mina was disassembling her shelter. “I stopped to see if there was someplace I could take her,” Heller said. She accepted the offer and asked him to take her to the next town, according to Heller, who drove Mina and her belongings to the parking lot of Hank’s Harvest Foods in Twisp.
Mina told the Methow Valley News that “police harassment” was her reason for suddenly moving camp. “They kicked me out,” she said.
Chief Budrow confirmed that Winthrop officer Seth Carlson and Twisp officer Ty Sheehan responded to a call on Sunday afternoon from Red Apple Market, which reported that a woman had taken three shopping carts from the store. The carts were found with Mina, who, after “yelling at [the officers] quite profusely,” relinquished them to the officers, Budrow said.
Carlson and Sheehan were unavailable for comment.
Budrow said he talked to Mina in Twisp on Monday, and reported that she had done laundry at The Washworks and shopped at Hank’s. He said that he would continue to check on her welfare and intended to refer her to Adult Protective Services when that office reopened on Tuesday.
During the discussion about homeless issues at last week’s Community Roundtable, Lois Garland, Room One’s youth and family social worker, reminded the group that “other people in the valley are going to be in dire situations as winter sets in.” Garland was aware of three families in the Methow Valley School District who are “currently living in campers designed for summer living,” she said.
Shmekel said that he would be inviting a representative from the Homeless Coalition to a future meeting of the roundtable.