Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness
On April 12th I spent all afternoon responding to the crisis that faced a Seattle man who lives in his vehicle. The issues were many. The last straw was the boot applied under the now 2 year old Seattle Scofflaw ordinance, since with four or more unpaid tickets he was eligible. By law the vehicle is towed to a tow yard where it’s auctioned off if fines and fees are not paid.
As non-homeless persons, it may sound fair to require that people pay vehicle tickets or face consequences. Easy to say when you are not living in your vehicle. For those living in their vehicle, there are many dangers. One is that any neighbor living in a home can complain; if you don’t move you will be towed. Park illegally, you are towed immediately. Park in the same place legally but for more than 72 hours, you’ll be ticketed. An “orange tag” on a windshield is the warning.
Persons living in their vehicles rarely have the assets to pay these costs assessed. Add to that how they must keep their vehicle with enough gas to move it, keep it running well enough to move it frequently, find ways to eat, to address bodily functions, to bathe, to sleep safely without fear or even with fear…. To keep the vehicle legal with current tags, a current driver’s license, title in his/her name, and so on.
We continue to meet with the City to build better bandaids, because policy change eludes us. So, our thanks principally go to the staff at Parking Enforcement, namely Officers William Edwards, George Murray, and Laura Fox; to staff at the Municipal Court, namely Jerry Stein and William Wilson; to Councilman Mike O’Brien and his former aide Sahar Fathi and current aide Josh Fogt; to the Seattle Dept. of Transportation, staff in the Mayor’s office, especially Jerry DeGrieck, to the Human Services Department, to the Seattle Police Department, among others, all of whom helped to alleviate harm. But the damage repeats, even today as I was at Court to help someone at risk, because the law remains unchanged.
Back to where I started. In April I walked this fellow through his damage. We went to Court, where through a fund our ITFH created through donations, to include $5K from UWKC and $6K from private donors, we were able to pay deposits so he and others could get into payment plans. Then off to the Department of Licensing, where his driver’s license was renewed, since it was suspended due to non-payment of tickets. Then somewhere else for new car tags and he even received new license plates to boot (no pun intended). He was speechless when I finally dropped him off.
Policy change still eludes us. One colleague writes, “I as a low-income elderly Seattle resident can go on-line to City websites to learn all the ways that the City will make financial exceptions for me, because of my age and income status. Yet we are told by City attorneys that the City can’t make exceptions for poor people so that they may simply keep their vehicles — their homes.”
In this Mayoral election year in Seattle, it’s time to stop being medics and become the mediators who end this war on the poorest living in their vehicles. We thank the Seattle Human Services Coalition for this award. Special thanks to colleague Jean Darsie, a true volunteer for the common good,.. thanks to Elizabeth Maupin, the Safe Parking Outreach Coordinator during the 2012-13 term, funded by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods through Sustainable Seattle,.. thanks to Graham Pruss for his leadership through the Ballard Community Task Force on Homelessness and Hunger, and finally thanks to volunteers mechanics Frank and Gord’n.