Meet William Sindequist.
The 61-year-old Vietnam War veteran lives in his RV on a friend’s property in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood with his cat, Frankie, a Russian Blue.
Sindequist is the kind of man who works hard to fit within the system. He pays his friend and landlord roughly a third of his monthly income — just under $700 — for the use of his driveway and electric plug. He hires a private company to come and empty the camper’s toilet facilities and keeps the vehicle insured and road-legal.
He puts away what cash he can. When he splurges, it’s on things like a DNA test for Frankie, his constant companion, or the blue “Life is Good” hat he wears because the company donates 10 percent of its net profits to help children in need. An acquaintance pointed out the irony of the clothing choice.
“He said it should say, ‘Life is fucked,’” Sindequist said.
That’s because William Sindequist is running out of options.
City of Seattle officials warned Sindequist that he needs to be out of the driveway by June 15. His RV, a well-maintained but aging model, is less than a foot away from the next door neighbor’s property line. Code dictates that it should be a minimum of 5 feet, but even if it were it wouldn’t matter.
The area is zoned for single-family homes, meaning that although it’s legal to park an RV there, it’s illegal to live inside if someone is already living in the home.
Parking on the street outside is no better. Commercial vehicles, meaning anything 80 inches across, can park only in industrial areas and even “regular” sized cars have to move every 72 hours.
But Sindequist can’t.
“I’m on oxygen 24/7,” he said.
He needs an electrical plug to run his oxygen machine, a consequence of a botched medical procedure that scorched the inside of his lungs, he said.
“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard spot,” Sindequist said. “Every turn I make is the wrong turn.”
Sindequist’s situation is emblematic of a wider truth facing homeless and unstably housed people in the city of Seattle: If you aren’t literally homeless, there are few options for you until you lose everything. If you have any of what a San Francisco-based homeless shelter calls the “Three P’s” — property, partners or pets — you face even greater obstacles to access services.
Seattle City Hall experimented with stopgap solutions such as Road 2 Housing, championed by City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, as well as “safe zones” and “safe lots” to make room for people in RVs and other forms of vehicle residency.
Road 2 Housing relies on organizations willing to give their space to vehicle residents. Despite $300,000 in support from public coffers, the program created 12 parking spaces, none of which were large enough to accommodate an RV.
City Hall is retreating from a recent attempt to provide parking when city staff realized that a single parking lot with 20 vehicles was costing $35,000 per month on top of $24,689 in set-up costs, according to SeattlePI.com.
O’Brien has proposed legislation to loosen the rules around building backyard cottages and mother-in-law units, also called “detached accessory dwelling units” (dadu) in government parlance. If just 5 percent of eligible lots in the city took advantage, it would create 4,000 new housing units, according to O’Brien’s calculations.
Although building such units has been allowed since 2010, only 221 have been built.
Even O’Brien’s changes wouldn’t help Sindequist, however, because code around dadus explicitly prohibits “tiny houses on wheels” or camper trailers, RVs or boats.
Apparently, the only way a person can get stability is if they have a foundation.
Sindequist has been working any angle to resolve the situation. He has reached out to staff of multiple city councilmembers to work out a solution or reprieve. A church group has offered to help him get a generator to tide him over, but he estimates it would take a 3,000-watt device to run his appliances.
Getting into housing may be easier in October when he turns 62 and qualifies for supportive housing, but even then there would be a waiting period to get in and many places would require him to give up Frankie.
“I’m not going to get rid of my cat,” he said plainly.
He’s also working with veterans’ groups, which he hopes would be able to cover part of the rent at a mobile home park in Bothell.
All of the hustle and stress has begun to weigh on Sindequist whose calm exterior occasionally cannot hide how exhausting the past few weeks have been.
“I’m really tired of it,” he said.