Aiding People Living in Vehicles

Introduction

In 2016, City of Seattle funding helped 1,693 people exit homelessness and move into permanent housing, and 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 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.

Vehicle residents account for more than 40% of the homeless population in Seattle.

Our current approach to vehicular residency 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. Research has shown that these types of responses to vehicular living have furthered individual harm and have not improved neighborhood safety or health. The proposals outlined in the draft ordinance and resolution attempt to learn lessons from these previous efforts and expand on what has worked.

Summary of Draft Legislation

The draft resolution calls for funding to develop a community needs assessment on the vehicular living population:

  • To further inform our policy directions
  • Development of safe parking spaces
  • And an expansion of outreach and social services to support vehicular residents.

This resolution also calls on the City to:

  • Do further analysis into recreational vehicle campgrounds
  • Create an auto-maintenance training program
  • And increase mobile healthcare services for vehicular residents.

The draft ordinance 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, trucks 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.

FAQ

Does this proposed legislation allow for anyone to park anywhere if they are a vehicle resident?

No. It sets up an alternate enforcement pathway for those who participate in a program that involves services to help them stabilize their situation, and put them on the path to permanent housing. If someone does not participate in the program, they would be subject to the normal parking penalties. It also would not prevent Parking Enforcement and/or a social service provider from asking and helping the participant in the program to move the vehicle to a different location.

Are you going to get rid of the 72-hour rule?

No. SPD would still be able to enforce parking violations. The proposal sets up an alternate enforcement pathway for vehicle residents connected to services, and for whom booting or impoundment would mean they would be further from the possibility of getting permanent housing. It would not prevent Parking Enforcement and/or a social service provider from asking and helping the participant in the program to move the vehicle to a different location.

Seattle Police would still have every right to enforce parking violations and arrest people for breaking laws.

What if people are committing crimes in their vehicles, like sexual exploitation? Would they be exempt from our laws?

No. This proposal would not impact criminal legal enforcement. Seattle Police would still have every right to arrest people for breaking laws, including sexual exploitation.

We need more places for people to park outside of neighborhoods, why aren’t we allowing for that?

The City’s previous attempts to provide safe parking have been unnecessarily expensive, and I intend to work with our Departments to develop a streamlined, more affordable 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 significant financial investment, and I intend to work during the budget review process this fall to identify available funding.

Why can’t we just tow the vehicles away?

In currently allowing vehicle residents to continue to accrue parking and impoundment fines, we only exacerbate their challenges in finding a pathway to housing. If someone is willing to work with a service provider and is committed to stabilizing their living situation, there are more effective ways of addressing their situation than booting or towing their vehicle. This proposal would not prevent Parking Enforcement and/or a social service provider from asking and helping the participant in the program to move the vehicle to a different location.

When is this proposal going to be voted on?

Currently this proposal is not scheduled for introduction or formal vote anytime soon. The legislation attached to this page are the drafts we have circulated for feedback/comment among stakeholders, City departments, and Councilmembers, and we are still far from introducing at Council. We decided to make these drafts widely available to media and the public to correct an erroneous draft that is floating around.