Seattle residents wanting to see compassionate progress on homelessness and a restoration of parks and neighborhood streets have reason to be encouraged.
With much work left to be done, there are recent examples of people being housed and laws once again being enforced.
Mayor Bruce Harrell deserves credit for leading an outreach effort to find shelter for those living in Woodland Park. It took months of trust-building to clear the encampment May 10 and finally restore the park to its intended purpose — to provide all residents with access to green space and respite from urban living.
The mayor’s office said it had referred 83 individuals to some form of shelter, a number that it called “unprecedented.” Now, parks staff are repairing picnic shelters, fixing public restrooms and planting vegetation. Sports events will return this summer.
Former Mayor Jenny Durkan instituted a policy that once a park was cleared of tents, none would be allowed to return. Harrell should follow this example in Woodland Park and elsewhere.
Now that the largest tent encampment in a city park has been tackled, it’s time to move on to the next big challenge: RVs that haven’t moved in months or sometimes years.
On May 13, the Seattle Department of Transportation announced that it was resuming parking enforcement for any vehicle that remained in place for longer than 72 hours. The practice had been suspended during the pandemic.
To get a sense of the urgency of this issue, on the same day of SDOT’s announcement, police responded to a shooting at an RV encampment at the 2600 block of Southwest Andover Street in West Seattle. The site has long been the source of neighborhood complaints. The West Seattle Blog reported that city council members, outreach workers and Marc Dones of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority recently toured the street in preparation for a future removal.
A Washington state Supreme Court ruling last year prevented cities from towing vehicles that also served as people’s homes and then auctioning them to pay fines and fees.
A spokesman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office confirmed that Lincoln Towing retains a contract with the city to tow vehicles to impound lots. RV residents and others can request a hearing with Seattle Municipal Court to potentially obtain their vehicle by paying what they can afford.
People who don’t own the vehicle can get their belongings only if they can provide authorization from the registered owner.
Erin Goodman, executive director of the Sodo Business Improvement Area, estimates there are more than 400 RVs in Sodo. She said many are occupied by people who rent them and likely have little or no contact with the registered owners.
How the city handles this conundrum may present future legal issues. For now, resuming enforcement of the 72-hour parking rule for RVs and other vehicles is a positive step.
Homelessness is a vast, difficult and nuanced challenge. Enforcing basic laws rebuilds public trust, prompts outreach to the unsheltered and provides the political capital City Hall needs to get things done.