Seattle Mayor Ed Murray won’t open a second “safe lot” for people living in vehicles, after all, saying the first lot is costing more than projected.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has canceled plans to open a second “safe lot” for people living in cars and recreational vehicles because he says the first is costing more than expected.
The city will, however, soon begin experimenting with regular trash collection for the residents of some unauthorized homeless encampments.
Responding to concerns about a growing number of vehicles parked for weeks and months in Fremont, Ballard, Magnolia and other neighborhoods, Murray in January issued and the City Council approved an emergency order to quickly open a pair of safe lots for the homeless — one in Ballard and one in Delridge.
The Ballard lot opened last month, but was at capacity with 20 vehicles as of March 15 and is costing the city about $35,000 per month — $1,750 per vehicle, Murray spokesman Viet Shelton said. That’s the same as median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, according to Zillow’s latest estimate.
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The Delridge safe lot would have accommodated only 10 vehicles, but with a similar overall price tag, Shelton said. So now it will never open.
The city will instead keep open for at least two extra months a pair of temporary safe zones in public rights of way — one in Interbay and one in Sodo.
“We didn’t anticipate quite how expensive the safe lot would be in comparison with the zones,” Shelton said. “We’re still going to have safe spaces for people to be.”
The temporary zones have been much less expensive to operate because they don’t include such things as fencing, cooking facilities, site staff and power, Shelton said.
They’re costing the city about $5,300 per month, and each has hosted about 20 vehicles, Shelton said.
Residents of several neighborhoods had been calling on Murray and the police to crack down on drug dealing and other crimes they blamed on people living in RVs.
Murray proposed the two safe lots with sanitation, garbage service and case-management assistance. He initially said the lots would accommodate up to 50 vehicles.
Two weeks later, the annual One Night Count estimate of people without shelter tallied 914 people in vehicles in Seattle, an increase of more than 100 over 2015.
Murray set up the two temporary zones, along with one in Ballard that has since closed.
The Ballard safe lot launched last month in the former Yankee Diner parking lot at Shilshole Avenue Northwest and 24th Avenue Northwest after some debate over what the rules would be. Some RV dwellers balked at moving to the site after officials initially said propane heaters, cooking stoves, power sources and smoking would be banned.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents Delridge, said she can see the logic in not opening the second safe lot there. But she is worried about people living in vehicles near the site because police told them to move there, she said.
“SPD has been encouraging people to move their vehicles there (in anticipation of the safe lot opening),” she said. “I haven’t heard what plan there is to work with them.”
Shelton said officials will seek spots for those people and their vehicles in the temporary zones and will make other services available to them.
Though the Ballard safe lot and the Interbay and Sodo temporary zones are working for some people, police have continued to encounter problems with some RVs.
On Feb. 2, they arrested a 58-year-old man for allegedly dealing drugs from an RV in Magnolia. On Feb. 11, two people were injured in a fire in an RV at the Interbay zone.
Earlier this month, a woman was beaten after she smashed the windows of a van that had been parked outside her home for weeks, KOMO News reported.
Early Saturday morning, an RV caught fire on Capitol Hill. There were no injuries, but the blaze is under investigation, a Fire Department spokeswoman said.
Last month, at Herbold’s request, the council earmarked $200,000 in funding later this year for hygiene and sanitation services at unauthorized encampments.
Before spending that money, Seattle Public Utilities will, as a test, pay for trash to be collected regularly at four such sites, said Scott Lindsay, a Murray adviser.
The experiment, beginning this week or next, will cost $10,000 and the sites will be under Interstate 5 at South Jackson Street, South King Street and South Dearborn Street and at Airport Way South and South Royal Brougham Way, Lindsay said.
“I’m very excited about this,” Herbold said. “We want to address the needs of people living in these encampments and people living in the surrounding communities.”