I have done the One Night Count two years in a row. I stayed up all night and walked the streets of Seattle in an effort to gain some idea of how many people in our city are sleeping on the streets. In 2005, the Seattle Times counted 41 live-in vehicles parked in Central Ballard. It was also 2005 that King County adopted the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.
According to the 2011 One Night Count, 506 vehicular residents were counted and 141 of them were in Ballard. In January of this year, I committed to finding a solution for people living in their cars in Ballard. I started by meeting with local advocates and churches to assess what had been done in Ballard about the number of people living in cars. In February, I started meetingwith city departments, asking for their support and whatever background they had on the situation.
It turns out I was not the only elected official interested in finding a solution for Ballard Car Campers. In response to the growing numbers of people living in their cars in Ballard, and in no small part due to the incredible advocacy of Ballard Homes for All, State Representative Mary Lou Dickerson fought to secure $10,000 in state funds for a safe parking pilot project in Ballard.
The community came together to do outreach in the Ballard community to vehicular residents and, on April 24, I joined Heroes for the Homeless at the crack of dawn in their routine outreach. I served coffee and handed out socks and hygiene products to people who were just looking for a safe, dry place to rest their heads.
More importantly, I had a chance to listen to their stories. What I heard was that these folks could be my parents. These were people down on their luck in the most difficult economy in generations and they were doing everything they could to maintain a temporary home in a motor vehicle.
I believe that this is a time for action. I fully support the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and the underlying philosphy behind its approach, including the need for more transitional housing. We all know we need more safe, affordable housing in Seattle, be it transitional housing or permanent housing, we need more. But right now we don’t have enough funds for transitional housing for everyone. Right now the State faces nearly $2 billion in additional revenue shortfalls, and legislators have tough choices ahead. We’ve already seen the legilsature cut over $9 billion over the past few years.
So what is this project? What am I trying to do? The answer what we are calling a safe parking pilot program, and the idea has been tried across the country in various models.
In Seattle it looks like this. The local faith community in Ballard is coming together to provide vacant parking spaces in their lots. The first congregation to announce their support has been Our Redeemers Lutheran. They have offered space in their lots and access to have their toilets for 3-5 vehicles, on the condition that the people living in their cars want to get out of homelessness and into housing.
On our end, the Human Services Department will be contracting with a local service provider to do basic case management at each church that hosts cars. Altogether, there should be about 20 spots starting January 1, 2012. There is one caveat. I committed to raise $25,000 for this project during this year’s budget. I need the support of you and my colleagues to get that passed.
I have been inspired by the people who have come together and volunteered their time to make this program a reality. I am grateful to organizations like Real Change, that give folks like those living in their cars the chance to make a little extra money to cover expenses by selling their newspapers. I am committed to working on more solutions for homelessness and I recognize that this pilot doesn’t end the problem. But, at the end of the day, we are providing a safer place for people who are living outside until they can live inside.
I hope you will come out on Wednesday and support my Green Sheet for $25,000 towards this important project. The Public Hearing will be held at 5:30 at City Hall in Chambers. Citizens attending the meeting can take a copy of the agenda from the meeting and receive a discounted parking rate of $3 at Sea Park Garage on 6th Avenue between Cherry and James.
Please let me know what you think below in the comments, and as always feel free to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call my office (206-684-8800) if you have any questions or want to know how you can support this important project.