City hopes parking lots will help solve homeless problem


SEATTLE -- Parking lots are Seattle's latest answer to what the Mayor calls a "state of emergency" for the homeless.

The aim is to provide space in the lots for people forced to live in RVs or cars. It's also an effort to get them out of the neighborhoods that call them magnets for crime.

"These guys, they take over city blocks. Down by the Post Office they had a whole block with tarps and garbage all over the place," said Ballard business owner Raymond Gagner.

Gagner knows that first hand. Last year his Ballard business, Propulsion, was surrounded by a makeshift homeless encampment of people living in RVs and motor homes.

He said that left nowhere to park and a filthy mess around his and other businesses. The entire block was littered with dilapidated vehicles, many covered with cardboard and tarps, piles of garbage and used hypodermic needles.

An RV fire and explosion outside Gagner's shop last year exposed the problem.

At the time, those living in their vehicles along Gagner's street said they had nowhere to go -- so they stayed or moved down the road, but Gagner said they always came back a few days later.

He says a year later, it's much better.

"It's much better, we got to them and so did Parking Enforcement," he said.

Now some of those homeless living in cars or RVs will soon have a safe place to park, reserved just for their vehicles.

One hundred spaces will be available this time next month, in two parts of the city.

Mayor Ed Murray announced two parking lots or "Safe Lots," one in Ballard at the old Yankee Diner parking lot on Shilshole Ave NW and 24th Ave. NW and a property the city hopes to buy from the DOT near Delridge on West Marginal Way and Highland park Way SW. The lots will be akin to tent cities, equipped with sanitation, dumpsters and a code of conduct.

"I think it's a great idea. I would want to go over and see what it looks like before I would move in, I just move every few days, keep out of people's hair," said Billy Spears, who lives in an RV on a Ballard street.

But some of his Ballard neighbors are not so welcoming.

Multiple complaints forced the city to order a homeless encampment to its three tents, and piles of belongings from Shilshole NW in Ballard.

The site is strewn with garbage and used needles, and neighbors say they worry about drugs and crime.

Social service workers were on site to help relocate the two men now displaced.

"We've had folks from Reach out here to see if they can connect them with services, " said Brendan Brophy, Assistant City Attorney.

"We're still people we want to have a place to call our own," said Brian, one of two homeless men booted from the Shilshole site.

The city is working on more shelters. It's added 300 shelter beds since November and will soon open another encampment, and will add the two Safe Lots in about 30 days.

The Safe Lots are a start, but nowhere near a solution, said Seattle Council member Sally Bagshaw.

"It's a step in the right direction," Bagshaw said. "Anyone working or living in Seattle sees an increased number of people living unsheltered. No one thinks this a good thing for the individual or neighbors."

In a news release, the Mayor said the city will fund the lots with money approved by City Council last November when the mayor declared a state of emergency for the homeless.

"These are not long term solutions to end homelessness, but temporary locations that can be managed to provide a safer environment for those living on the streets and have less impact on our neighborhoods." the news release reads.

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