A longstanding program that works with vehicle residents will lose funding under the mayor’s 2021 budget proposal, but city officials hold that there will be no reduction in outreach services.
The Scofflaw Mitigation Team won $100,000 in the 2020 budget, marking the first time the group — a trio that has worked with vehicle residents since 2011 — had received material support from the city since they formed in response to an ordinance that created harsher penalties for people who accumulated parking tickets.
However, the team’s work does not end in referrals to housing, and with money tight, officials directed funding toward programs that move people indoors. The Scofflaw Mitigation Team was meant to contract with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which will still be conducting vehicle outreach, according to the Human Services Department (HSD).
“The City contracts directly with the Urban League, which in turn subcontracts with the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness (ITFH) to provide mitigation services for people living in their vehicles,” Will Lemke, a spokesperson for HSD, wrote in an email. “The City does not have a formal relationship with the ITFH.”
The goal of the contract was to move people living in vehicles into housing, and there is “no reduction in services that support that goal,” Lemke said.
The news was a surprise to Bill Kirlin-Hackett, the director of ITFH, who said the organization had already begun work doing outreach to vehicle residents at the beginning of September.
“There’s a complete failure to understand people who are homeless,” Kirlin-Hackett said. “There are some hard characters to deal with, for sure, but there are more people who would take the right kind of help over the course of engagements and trust.
“I just don’t see the system exercising much willingness to build trust,” Kirlin-Hackett said.
The Scofflaw Mitigation Team organized after the city passed its “scofflaw ordinance” in 2011, which allows the city to put a boot on cars with more than four unpaid parking tickets. People who are living in their cars may not be able to pay off their parking tickets nor the $145 fee to get the boot off of their vehicle residence.
The team — which currently consists of Kirlin-Hackett, Jean Darsie and Jenn Adams — works with parking enforcement and the courts to help people living in their vehicles navigate the system. They have also teamed up with a class of design students at the University of Washington to create informational materials to help people avoid tickets in the first place.
For years the team operated informally, building relationships with vehicle residents, parking enforcement and the courts without direct institutional support. They relied on direct outreach to vehicle residents as well as those relationships to identify and help people experiencing homelessness.
The team received funding for the first time in the 2020 budget, but the funding still hadn’t been released as of March after the coronavirus outbreak first hit Seattle. When the mayor’s budget for 2021 was released in late September, monetary support for ITFH’s work was explicitly cut.
“This item eliminates an ongoing budget add made by Council for the 2020 budget which was intended to provide support for the Scofflaw program of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness,” the passage reads. “HSD and the Interfaith task force were unable execute [sic] on a contract for this work in 2020 and this cut will not result in a reduction in current service levels.”
The 2020 point-in-time count found 2,748 people living in vehicles in King County. However, there are few programs that address the needs of that population. Even safe parking programs, which are meant to provide spaces to connect people living in their vehicles with services, often do not accept people living in recreational vehicles.
People living in vehicles already have autonomy and a degree of shelter, but few services. Building trust with them takes many engagements over the course of time, Kirlin-Hackett said.
“They just don’t understand how long it takes to get someone off the street and into housing,” he said.
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.
Read more in the Oct. 14-20, 2020 issue.