“People are definitely stuck in a cycle that you can’t escape. You know, you can repair your vehicle, you can move, but you have to keep moving. … It’s just stressful to be in this situation, especially when your vehicle’s in disrepair.
____________________________________UnshelteredCritical Issue #9: Vehicle Residency
The good, the bad, and the ugly
- A growing number of people in the US are using vehicles as a form of affordable housing.
- Vehicle residents account for more than 40% of the unsheltered homeless population in Seattle. (I couldn’t find similar data specific to Tacoma or Pierce County. If you have it, please send it my way.)
- An RV or car offers more protection from the elements -and from violence- than a tent does.
- A vehicle provides a relatively safe place to store belongings and (if it runs) transportation as well.
- Some people live in vehicles because they can’t afford both rent and tuition; some can’t afford both rent and medicine and some simply can’t afford rent at all. Others have been living in vehicles for decades and do not consider themselves homeless.
- Lack of off-street space and city parking restrictions make it hard to leave a vehicle-home unattended while working, attending to basic needs, or seeking social service assistance.
- Parking tickets, towing costs, and impound fees quickly escalate and people may lose their home and everything they own when their vehicle is sold by the towing company to cover costs that are beyond their means. If you think it is difficult to contest such impounds in Pierce County, you’re right.
- One person’s “ugly RV that I wouldn’t be caught dead in” is another person’s “home sweet home” that may keep their family alive through the winter.
What can we do?
- Support the efforts of Pierce County’s Safe Parking Network, come to a Safe Sites 4 All zoom meetingto learn more.
- Be an ally and advocate for inclusion of vehicle residents in decisions that impact them. Be informed regarding local legal challenges and court decisions regarding vehicle residence, e.g., City of Seattle v. Steven Long with a Homestead Act twist and Potter v. Lacey.
- Learn about innovative programs in other jurisdictions. Some examples: Cars to Housing in Snohomish County; New Beginnings in Santa Barbara; Community First Village in Austin; and Operation Texas Strong: Weatherford
- Reframe the issue in human terms. Inform decision makers that survival housing is not a beauty contest. Old RVs are cheap, plentiful, and a quick way to get people sheltered.
- Demand that safe parking – INCLUDING parking for RVs – be included in every jurisdiction’s plan to address homelessness. As density increases faster than adequate public transportation, street parking for vehicle residents creates real problems. But that is all we have provided so far. Time to try something new.
More about vehicle residency
- Seattle Vehicle Residency Research Program (Seattle University: 2013)
- Ruling protects homeless people from having vehicles towed in Washington state (KING 5 video report: Aug 13, 2021)
- America’s hidden homeless: Surge in ‘car sleepers’ shows lack of affordable housing (France 24 video report: May 30, 2018)
- Vehicle residents: Seattle’s forgotten homeless community (University of Washington video report: May 28, 2019 with Graham Pruss)
- Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis (The San Francisco Public Press: 2020)
Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.___________________________________________________________________________________
Additional information and graphics for the Safe Sites 4 All Campaign are available here.Please help us promote solutions by sharing these messages with others.