Everett reconsidering how to handle homeless people living in vehicles

EVERETT, Wash. -- Steven Long sued the city of Seattle in 2016 after his truck was impounded for parking illegally, but a King County judge later ruled that his truck was a home and he should be allowed to live in it without having it towed.

Now that philosophy is spreading north to Snohomish County, and now the biggest city there is also changing the way it handles homeless people living in cars.

But police insist they will continue to cite and tow if the vehicles become a criminal problem.

“Today I noticed when the wind blows just right, their septic tanks are full and it smells like a Honey Bucket here in the parking lot,” said Jessica Fritts, who spends her downtime at Everett’s Thornton Sullivan Park.

But lately, she says, she has been sharing the parking lot with RVs she believes homeless people are living in.

“I understand the RV, I have a lot of friends who are doing it also, to save money,” said Fritts. “It’s the drugs and traffic that goes with it that I have a problem.”

It’s an issue that doesn’t impact Seattle alone. According to several point-in-time counts of the area’s homeless, officials found in 2017 that more than a third of Snohomish County’s population were living in vehicles – the same was found for about 1 in 5 homeless people in King County. In Pierce County, less than 10 percent of its homeless population was also found living in their cars.

“At this point in time, our prosecutor’s office is reviewing what’s going on in King County and reevaluating what we have,” said Everett Police Department spokesperson Aaron Snell.

Now the city of Everett is taking notice of Long’s court case in King County.

Before, parking and patrol officers could cite and tow a car that had not been moved within 72 hours. But now when they find people living in their cars; the department says it is working to provide resources to a population that doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

“In some cases, there are legitimate reasons why they’re there, and maybe we can help them out,” said Snell. “There’s services we can provide and all sorts of help we can provide to people, that way we’re not just towing.”

“If I paid rent, I’d be broke all the time and be depressed,” Long told Q13 News during an early May interview.

While the legal impact of Long’s case is still unfolding, he hopes policymakers don’t force homeless people to lose everything they own all because they’re stuck living out of their car.

“Well, if it’s a person’s home, they shouldn’t treat it as just property,” Long said. “It’s probably all you have.”

“I just think the drug epidemic is everywhere,” said Fritts.

Fritts hopes there’s a better place for the homeless to live, even if it’s in a car.

“You can find pieces of property to rent for a couple hundred dollars a month to put your RV on,” she said.

The Everett Police Department says it will work with homeless populations that are living in cars, but there is a limit to what they will tolerate. The department adds it will tow vehicles and deal with criminal issues on a case-by-case basis.