A new Seattle City Council proposal to grant RVs amnesty from parking tickets is similar to the wrongheaded idea of opening parks to homeless tents, and it deserves a similar rejection.
TWO out of five unsheltered homeless people in King County live in a vehicle. That fact has been mostly lost in the last few years, especially in Seattle, as tent cities became the locus of superheated homeless politics.
Seattle has done a lousy job getting the vehicle campers into permanent shelter. That goal must be the North Star for county and city homeless-response efforts. Car camping, like tent camping, is a Band-Aid, not a solution. Get people inside.
Yet Seattle City Council Councilmember Mike O’Brien now proposes to stand down enforcement of parking laws for homeless vehicles, if they’re parked in industrial lands. This new plan is in the same vein as last year’s wrongheaded plan to de-police homeless tent camps in city parks. A deluge of protests by Seattle voters killed the tent camping plan; this one deserves a similar response.
An early draft of O’Brien’s proposal, earlier last week, would have given a sweeping break from parking fines for people camping in cars and RVs. O’Brien released a narrower version on Thursday, with a one-year parking ticket amnesty for RVs in industrial zones.
Both plans miss the point. Homeless camping, in vehicles or tents, is a system failure in this affluent city. Get people inside.
How to do that? A task force on homeless vehicle camping, convened by O’Brien, recommended expanding a successful type of outreach, called Navigation teams. The existing team, focused on tent campers, makes repeated one-on-one contact with campers, offering an array of help, including housing. If the housing offer is declined, the tent can be removed and the camper’s belongings stored.
The outreach approach works because it is coupled with the threat of having the tent removed. It is compassionate, but firmly devoted to the larger goal of bringing people indoors. A similar approach must be applied to vehicles, especially RVs.
The task force also recommended a big expansion of sanctioned homeless camping car and RV lots. That approach makes sense only if the lots are effectively short-term train stations to get homeless vehicle campers into permanent housing. They also have to be more cost-effective than version 1.0, which cost an astonishing $1,700 per RV per month.
Seattle is on track this fall to rebid all of the services in its huge $50 million-plus homeless system, and add accountability benchmarks for city contracts. This retooling is badly overdue, and one of Mayor Ed Murray’s best ideas to confront homelessness. If the Seattle City Council grants parking amnesty, it moves in the exact opposite direction.
Advocates for the homeless describe O’Brien’s approach as humanitarian, and tend to portray the thousands of people who complain each month about illegally parked homeless cars and RVs as heartless.
That, again, misses the point. It is heartless to turn a blind eye — and turn off parking enforcement — for homeless car and RV campers. Get people inside.