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City Council proposal would help provide relief to people living in vehicles

The proposal would give parking leniency to those seeking services

A. Kwanten/Flickr

King County’s 2017 one night count found that more than 1,500 people were living in their vehicles—among more than 11,000 people experiencing homelessness countywide.

“The vast majority of the city’s focus is on individuals completely without shelter,” said City Councilor Mike O’Brien in a statement accompanying a draft legislation that would help those living in their vehicles. He said that “vehicle residents account for more than 40 percent of the unsheltered population in Seattle.”

His new draft proposal would establish a Vehicular Residences Program which would connect social service providers to people living out of their cars. In exchange, said O’Brien, “people living out of their cars and minivans would be provided amnesty from monetary penalties resulting from parking enforcement.”

The draft would allow the Seattle Police Department and the Human Services Department authority to develop a program for “vehicular residences”—a vehicle someone “uses as a shelter in lieu of emergency shelter, temporary housing or permanent housing”—on roadways.

It would also “deprioritize” impounding of such vehicles if their residents are participating in the program, and divert their users from being placed on the scofflaw list.

Those living in their vehicles face many logistical challenges to keeping that small roof over their heads. In addition to navigating day-to-day life living from a car and untangling city social programs, there’s the matter of finding a place to park and maintaining a vehicle with very few resources.

Often, this can result in multiple parking tickets and even booting and impoundment—putting those living out of their vehicle in an even more dire situation. “We only exacerbate the challenges in a pathway to housing,” said O’Brien.

The city has been providing services to this population with the Road to Housing program and through previous attempts to provide safe lots to park, But, said O’Brien, “it’s clear what we’re doing hasn’t been working on the scale we need.”

Even before O’Brien officially released the draft, the proposed ordinance already proved controversial. Last week, an outdated version of the proposal was leaked by City Attorney candidate Scott Lindsay, which would have exempted vehicles “identified as a vehicular residence” from parking requirements.

Neighborhood advocates, having read the earlier version of the proposal, were quick to respond with vitriol during a CIty Council committee meeting last week. Safe Seattle (not to be confused with anti-displacement organization SAFE in Seattle) and Neighborhood Safety Alliance both came out against the early draft.

Some comments seemed concerned about the ordinance resulting in additional RVs parked in their neighborhood, despite the findings of a city needs assessment that found the vast majority of those experiencing homelessness were living in King County the last time they became homeless.

In releasing the draft, O’Brien noted that even this version of the proposal is subject to change. “This legislation is a starting point, and I don’t intend to introduce or consider this bill in August,” he explained. “I’m very receptive to any ideas to improve this legislation or to entirely new solutions. But I know that doing nothing is not an option.”

While O’Brien has released a draft bill and will continue working with the city’s Vehicular Residence Task Force, the legislation is not yet being considered in its current form. A bill will be brought to committee during September at the earliest.