If there is one rule that translates equally from the public sector to the private sector to the private citizen, it is this: It is much more fun to talk about spending money than raising it.
Housing advocates and business interests continue to battle a cold war over an employee-hours tax through their councilmember proxies to pay for affordable housing and homelessness services. As those arguments continue, the Finance & Neighborhoods Committee issued a détente to contemplate a more pleasant scenario: If Seattle did happen into another $75 million a year to combat homelessness and build affordable housing, where would it go?
While many of the usual — and important — suspects appear on the list, city staff also included roughly $18.2 million to directly and indirectly support vehicle residents. If passed, this would represent the first investment of any size in several years to help this population of people experiencing homelessness.
The proposal, tucked under the heading “Safety In Place,” includes 97 safe parking spots, case management services, trash removal and funding for hygiene services. Approximately $5.8 million of the total is earmarked specifically for vehicle residents and would, among other things, help defray the cost of tickets.
The program is part of the 20 percent of the tax revenues set aside for emergency services. The rest will go into housing production and preservation.
The news pleased Jean Darsie, a long-time advocate for people living in their vehicles.
“It’s wonderful,” Darsie said. “It’s like a miracle. We can start really helping people.”
At present, Darsie, Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett and Jennifer Adams, a former vehicle resident and Real Change vendor, are the only people focused on getting help for people living in their vehicles, despite the fact that vehicle residents made up 42 percent of the unhoused population, according to the 2017 homeless census. That’s 2,314 people who are not targeted with direct services, unlike people in shelters or encampments.
The Scofflaw Mitigation Team — as Darsie, Kirlin-Hackett and Adams are known — tries to prevent these people from getting expensive tickets for parking or expired tabs and helps shepherd them through the courts. The consequences of such tickets can snowball, resulting in the loss of a home to impound or even misdemeanor conviction if tickets go ignored for too long.
The team relies on an informal network of parking enforcement and court employees to do their work. The team lacks monetary resources as well. They raise money, but donations have largely dried up over the past two or three years, Darsie said. It’s also difficult to keep in touch with vehicle residents who have to live like nomads, constantly moving around the city.
Support from the city could make a dent in that and play a role in getting thousands of people currently living in their vehicles into permanent housing by giving them a safe place to park and access to services to help them transition into housing.
The only remaining concession for people living in cars is a lot by railroad tracks in SODO, and that is expected to close this year.
Still, 97 parking spaces is “a drop in the bucket,” said committee chair Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
Under the proposed plan, the parking spaces would be spread out across lots holding six to eight cars each. People staying there would have access to case management and hygiene centers. They could also get their vehicles’ toilets emptied and help to pay tickets.
Kirlin-Hackett is on the fence.
“I doubt Seattle can find 97 spaces,” Kirlin-Hackett wrote in an email, noting that Seattle needs to take a more regional approach.
The proposal follows several recommendations from the Progressive Revenue Task Force, a group convened to design the tax and potential ways to spend revenues raised. Darsie wanted funding to help repair vehicles, but it was not listed in the proposal. Many vehicle residences are old and acquire parking violations because they can’t move every 72 hours.
Of the recreational vehicles that Seattle paid a tow company to dispose of in 2017, the newest was pushing 20 years old. Several date back to a time before the auto industry standardized vehicle identification numbers, obscuring their exact age.
Also included in the $78 million set aside for emergency response is money for enhanced shelters and tiny houses, health services, criminal justice diversion and money to supplement wages for frontline workers. Turnover in these positions prevents people from developing relationships and getting the consistent help that they need, said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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