Many Seattleites have gotten to know the beat-up RVs in their neighborhoods. Those mobile homes might disappear for a few days or weeks, but they come back. They are visible symptoms of the much greater issue of homelessness. Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to keep the worst of them off the city’s streets.
What many people might not realize is that the city is part of the Zombie RV life cycle. The city tows them, finds no owner willing to pay the fines and then auctions them off. People without homes or “car-ranchers” buy them on the cheap at the auction and put them back out in the community. Neighbors complain and the cycle begins again. Last year, more than half of RVs auctioned — five dozen of them — returned to city streets.
The term “car-ranchers” might be new to some people. They are predators who purchase junk vehicles and rent them to homeless individuals or families. They prey on some of the most vulnerable members of the community by charging too much for awful, semi-mobile homes. More than 2,000 people live in vehicles in King County.
Durkan has proposed a two-pronged approach to breaking the cycle. First, city departments will enforce stricter standards about which vehicles can be sold. The city will destroy, rather than auction, those deemed public health hazards because they have drug, human waste or other contamination. Second, proposed local legislation will target car-ranchers with fines of up to $2,000 if they rent vehicles in poor or inoperable condition.
Both are smart answers to a problem that not only harms homeless residents but also diminishes the quality of life in Seattle for everyone. No one should have to live in a vehicle that is unfit for habitation. And no neighborhood should have decrepit vehicles lined up outside homes and businesses.
Granted, this fixes a relatively minor part of the homelessness crisis. “There’s so many moving parts to this, and they’re just trying to fix one little piece,” Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett, a homeless rights advocate told The Seattle Times. “There’s so many side problems here it’s like putting your fingers into the middle of a rosebush. There are thorns everywhere.”
Nevertheless, it is some progress. Seattle will not end the homelessness crisis with a single comprehensive measure. Rather, tackling individual aspects over time will work toward cumulative improvement.