Community members are speaking out against the new safe parking zone in SoDo, saying that the area is too dangerous and that it’s cut off from basic necessities.
The SoDo zone, located near the intersection of Spokane Street and Second Avenue South, is in an industrial area surrounded by businesses, warehouses and the Seattle City Light South Service Center.
It’s far from North Seattle where many of the people eligible to relocate have lived for years and where some still hold jobs, said Graham Pruss, a member of the All Home King County executive committee who has worked on vehicle residency issues for several years.
“Many people who are experiencing vehicle residency are doing it in neighborhoods they are historically tied to,” Pruss said.
They depend on the medical and social services that they have traditionally had access to in that area, as well as public transportation. None of those things are available in the SoDo area, Pruss said.
“There’s an environmental justice piece of this,” Pruss said. “It’s an industrial wasteland. These are the parts we don’t consider habitable by people. We don’t put resources in because we don’t expect people to live there.”
It’s a “desolate dry and dusty lot” situated near the train tracks, said Jean Darsie, an advocate and member of the Scofflaw Mitigation Team who visited the lot.
“My personal opinion is that it’s a ghetto for homeless people, out of sight and out of mind,” she said.
The mayor’s office announced in January that City Hall would allow two safe parking lots and three safe parking zones. The difference between the two is that “lots” had more infrastructure like a communal cook tent and utilities while “zones” included only trash removal and access to case management. The safe lots were meant for “homeless individuals and families living in recreational vehicles and cars” and would be accompanied by services to help the new residents move quickly into housing.
The city has since scaled back on the lots because of the escalating costs, and the Interbay zone always had an expiration date because it is owned by a private party.
Whether or not the new zone, which fits 10 fewer vehicles than the Interbay zone, will meet the needs of the residents or City Hall’s goals of moving people into housing has yet to be seen.
While there have always been constraints on who can live in the zones, namely people who agree to follow a code of conduct, the location of the SoDo zone further limits potential residents.
Within a block of the location is a transitional housing facility for sex offenders. According to the state registry, five level-three sex offenders live at the site. Levels represent the severity of risk to reoffend in the community at large, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Three is the worst.
“The proximity of a program housing level-three sex offenders to the SoDo location makes the SoDo lot unacceptable for families with children,” said Katherine Jolly, spokesperson for Seattle’s Department of Human Services.
If families with children cannot move to the site, it limits the ability to reach people who are ready to get into housing, Pruss said. Furthermore, it’s not just families with children who get put at risk.
“Women are out there in their vehicles as well, not just single men,” he said.