Proposal would allow homeless to live in cars, RVs in Seattle without penalty

SEATTLE – The growing homeless problem in our area is happening just about everywhere you look from wooded areas, to the underpasses, to your neighborhoods.  Homeless people are camping out wherever they can.

Newly released numbers from Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness shows there’s 3,857 unsheltered homeless in Seattle, with 40% living in their vehicles.

That’s why one City Council member -- Mike O'Brien -- says he wants to change city code to allow people to live in their vehicles anywhere in the city for however long they want as long as they enter a diversion program.

“We don’t choose to be homeless, but we are, though,” said a homeless man named Bob.

Bob has spent the past 11 years living in the woods, streets, cars, and RVs.  He says he’s been forced out of more areas than he can count.

“When you just uproot us from one spot, we’re gonna go to another,” said Bob.

Q13 News found Bob and others near RVs off Myers Way South in a commercial zone.  Seattle police were already there when we arrived and told the campers they had to leave by midnight.  There’s no overnight parking in commercial zones from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.  You can park overnight in industrial areas for up to 72 hours.

“There is no plan or protocol on how to address people living in their vehicles,” said Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness Director Bill Kirlin-Hackett.

The Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness has a plan:  Make it OK to live in your vehicle anywhere in the city without a penalty.

“The problem they face is the laws of the city that pertain to the residents really put them at risk of not moving often enough or violations of areas they shouldn’t park in,” said Kirlin-Hackett.

Those violations come with fines and mounting fees homeless advocates say can’t and won’t be paid.  So the task force argues stop ticketing and impounding vehicles for parking and traffic violations and instead offer and provide services.

“A vehicle residency program that would allow them to get into a safe place. Get stabilized so they can work, have access to services,” said Kirlin-Hackett.

“I have sympathy but not empathy I guess,” said alleged petty theft victim James.

James lives and works in Seattle's Sodo district, near homeless encampments where he’s been the victim of petty theft.

“Hammocks, anything, lawn chairs, things like that.  It's tools that can be used in day-to-day life that are just missing out of yards,” said James.

He’s just next door to the Spokane Street Bridge that saw two RVs from an unsanctioned homeless encampment go up in flames and that threatened nearby businesses and I-5.  It’s also the same place where a cyclist was attacked riding nearby.  Even though he says he understands homelessness is a complex problem, James has his reservations about the idea being proposed.

The task force recommendations would not exempt homeless people from criminal offenses or civil obligations unrelated to their vehicles.  There are still several steps that need to happen before this could possibly become a new city ordinance.