Seattle considers controversial plan to allow homeless RV campers to park anywhere
SEATTLE - For two years, Theresa Britton has been moving the RV she lives in up and down Harbor Avenue in West Seattle to avoid getting ticketed.
To prevent long stretches of overnight camping, Seattle’s Municipal Code states cars and RV’s cannot be parked in one spot for more than 72 hours.
“I’ve paid all my tickets, and it’s been hard.” said Britton. “But I’ve got one ticket I haven’t been able to pay yet and I don’t have the money to pay it."
Britton may get some relief.
Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien is leading an effort to create a Vehicular Residence Program which would allow RV’ers and car campers who declare themselves homeless the opportunity to stay put where they are parked without fear of being ticketed, towed or impounded.
“It’s awesome, I love it,” said Britton. “It makes it a lot easier instead of having to move every three days or taking a chance on getting tickets.”
A draft ordinance reveals there is a caveat for the special parking privileges. Britton and anybody else wishing to get the special parking privileges would have to join the program and agree to meet with a case worker to find housing.
O’Brien told fellow councilmembers and the public on Wednesday that there is simply not enough transitional or affordable housing to get the estimated 1,500 people living on the street in RV’s or cars into housing.
In an attempt to elevate the housing crunch, the ordinance would let people – who the city would designate as homeless – to live in their vehicles, parked legally almost anywhere, indefinitely. The homeless must still follow all other laws but they will get an exception when it comes to parking.
“We were seeing too many vehicles towed, people in a sense losing their home,” said Rev. Bill Kerlin-Hackett, a member of the work group charged with studying the issue of car camping for the homeless.
O’Brien addressed the controversy surrounding the proposed Vehicular Residence Program on Wednesday, saying it's too soon to pass judgement on what will or won’t be allowed because the final version of the ordinance has not been made public.
The work group made several recommendations to council members suggesting the ordinance include a safe parking program, develop RV campgrounds and invest in auto-mechanical training for the homeless so they can fix their RV’s themselves when they break down.
“I’ve been in a motor home for five years living in Ballard and have two or three thousand dollars with of tickets,” said Dawayne McCormick. “Not even if I got my social security and paid $500 bucks a month, I would probably be buried for a few years just trying to pay up."
But, McCormick said he’s staying put, even if he could have the choice to move his RV to almost anywhere. He’s one of 13 campers permitted to stay in the city’s only sanctioned ‘safe' RV lot in SODO. People staying here are on waiting lists to get placed into temporary housing.
McCormick has been waiting in the lot for a year, much to the dismay of the business owner next door.
“We haven't seen one person leave in the 15 months that they've been here,” sid Bill Kaczmarek, owner of Seattle Textile. “We were told it was going to be only temporary and they would be gone by the end of the year, that hasn’t happened.”
He said the idea to create more ‘safe’ RV lots is laughable.
“The city needs to take a look at what’s really going on down here before they proposed something as laughable as this," said Kaczmarek.
O’Brien hopes to release the text of the ordinance by week’s end.