Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle), Chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, issued the following statement regarding his proposed legislation intended to help respond to the needs of people living in their vehicles:
“In 2016, City of Seattle funding helped thousands of people exit homelessness and move into permanent housing, and I’m proud that the City continues to build on these efforts. However, the vast majority of the City’s focus is on individuals completely without shelter, while vehicle residents account for more than 40% of the unsheltered homeless population in Seattle. Moreover, during the past seven years, as the number of people unsheltered has increased by over 50%, the number of vehicle residents have more than doubled, from 590 individuals in 2010 to 1,550 in 2017.
“It’s clear what we’re doing hasn’t been working at the scale we need, and the challenges of vehicular living continue to increase without a clear policy direction. We’ve made efforts to help serve that population through our Road to Housing program, and through our previous attempts to provide supervised safe lots and safe zones. But our current approach to vehicular residency elsewhere often leaves vehicle residents with parking tickets, fines, and towing fees that puts them further away from housing, and isolated from services that they need.
“Today I’m putting forward draft proposals that take lessons from these previous efforts and expands on what has worked.
“Firstly, we need more parking options for people living in vehicles. Our previous attempts to provide parking have been unnecessarily expensive, and I intend to work with our Departments to develop a streamlined, more cost-effective parking program for vehicles to move to during their pathway to housing. In addition to identifying City-surplus property, I am confident that prioritizing social service and real estate management can also leverage spaces at faith-based organizations, non-profits, and business properties. It will still require a significant financial investment, and I intend to work with my colleagues and the City Budget Office during the budget review process this fall to identify available funding.
“Further, I’m putting forward a resolution that calls on the City to do additional analysis into recreational vehicle campgrounds, an auto-maintenance training program, and increasing mobile healthcare services for vehicular residents. I also plan to pursue a community needs assessment on the vehicular living population to further inform our policy directions.
“Next, I am putting forward draft legislation that would set up a Vehicular Residences Program in which social service providers would directly connect with people living out of their vehicles. Only when a user or users participate in the program would they be deprioritized for booting and impoundment from Scofflaw eligibility and diverted to an alternative enforcement mechanism through a social service program. People living out of their cars and minivans would be provided amnesty from monetary penalties resulting from parking enforcement, again, only if they’re participating in the program. For people living in RVs or other commercial vehicles, this amnesty would only apply if they are parked in industrial zoned areas. Seattle Police would still have every right to arrest people for breaking laws, including sexual exploitation. Nothing would prevent SPD or a social service provider from asking a vehicle to move and assisting them to move their vehicle.
“To be clear, the legislation I’m announcing today differs from the outdated version that some news media were provided and reported on that I had not intended to advance. The outdated version resulted in several news stories that have inspired constituents to call-in to express their opposition to elements that are not included in the newer version of the bill. I’m glad the public will now have an opportunity to respond to the complete proposal I had intended.
“In currently allowing vehicle residents to continue to accrue parking and impoundment fines, we only exacerbate their challenges in a pathway to housing. If someone is willing to work with a service provider and is committed to stabilizing their living situation, I think we should enthusiastically try to meet that need.
“This legislation is a starting point, and I don’t intend to introduce or consider this bill in August. 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.”