Tensions mount over homeless car camping as city tests new approachon May 8, 2012 @ 9:45 am (Updated: 11:21 am - 5/8/12 )
It's nothing new in the neighborhood or many other parts of Seattle. But after a decade of dealing with the the long line of vehicle campers constantly lining NW 50th Street next to the Ballard Bridge, owner David Rowland he says he's reached his tipping point.
"Enough is enough. I'd like to see them gone," says a frustrated Rowland. "Why should they be allowed to be a burden on us?"
It's more than just an eyesore or minor nuisance. One RV has been running a noisy generator for hours at a time directly outside his office. Rowland says the homeless regularly go to the bathroom behind his building, while neighbors regularly complain of noise, drunken fights and other problems throughout the night.
"It's just very demeaning to us," he says of the way he and his neighbors feel about the ongoing problem. He's particularly frustrated the city only sporadically enforces 72 hour parking limits and other restrictions and doesn't more aggressively ticket and tow the car campers.
But city leaders say it's not that simple. It's estimated at least 1,000 people now live in their vehicles in the city alone, according to Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien. And the numbers continue to grow.
"We get that a business owner or resident doesn't want them parking in front of their business or home. But simply sending them down the road doesn't solve the problem."
"I don't see why the city can't do something to make some kind of a park or rent a vacant space of some kind and let them camp there," Rowland says.
O'Brien says there are a number of significant challenges, from providing bathrooms for a large group, to electrical hookups and other services. He says the city simply doesn't have the resources or expertise to manage such an endeavor.
But O'Brien has helped launch a new pilot program that got underway in March at a Ballard church. Under the "Safe Parking Program", Our Redeemers Lutheran Church provides parking for up to five homeless campers. The church also provides access to the restroom and sanctuary.
It's not meant to be a permanent solution. A social services agency works with the campers to help them transition into regular housing and potentially employment.
O'Brien admits it's a drop in the bucket for a problem that's plagued the city for years. But he says it's an important start that shows tremendous promise.
"If this is a program that over the next year or two we can bring up to scale and maybe start accommodating a couple of hundred folks citywide, that starts to make a dent in that population."
O'Brien says he hopes to expand the pilot program to at least one other church in the next month with more to follow.
In the meantime, Rowland is left to deal with the daily parking, noise and other issues. He says he has plenty of sympathy for those down on their luck. But he doesn't understand why he should pay the price for it.
"Do something. Just please, get them out of our neighborhood."
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