Much of Seattle’s homeless population lives in vehicles, and finding a safe and effective solution has been an ongoing issue for years. The issue returned to the forefront with the recent death of Sabrina Tate, who died a few weeks short of her 28th birthday.
She was found in her RV on April 5 at Seattle’s last safe-zone for vehicle residents, according to The Seattle Times.
“This is not a place anyone should want their daughter or son,” Sabrina’s father told the Times. “Although it was called a safe lot or a safe zone, it was another place to put people so they are out of the way.”
“Shame on Seattle,” he added.
Tate was one of 10 people living in the industrial lot in SoDo near the Spokane Street viaduct. The un-fenced site houses rows of RVs and is the only city-sanctioned place in Seattle where the homeless can park long-term without being ticketed. There are an estimated 2,300 homeless people countywide who sleep in vehicles. That figure tripled since 2012.
“I don’t know how to feel about this,” KIRO Radio’s John Curley said. “Because there are so many different parts to family relations and dynamics. It’s really hard to come down on one side.”
The SoDo lot is the last remnant of former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to create designated zones for homeless people living in cars. During its run, the program cost $35,000 a month and housed 11 people. Since January 2017, the city received over 750 vehicle-camping complaints.
Medical examiners are still determining Sabrina Tate’s cause of death, though believe it to be the result of a leg infection, likely due to drug use. Tate struggled with heroin addiction for years and recently sought help from Harborview Medical Center.
Experimental Finland initiative gives homes to the homeless
Seattle isn’t alone in seeking original solutions to the homeless issue. Tom Tangney discussed a recent initiative in Finland where the government is giving people homes, without making it a requirement that they accept social services. The argument for the program points to evidence that homelessness is down, addiction recovery rates are up, and that emergency and criminal justice system are being relied on less.
Curley remains skeptical of employing such a program in Seattle.
“Let’s say word got out to all parts that Seattle is now providing homes for homeless people. Do you believe the number of people that were homeless would increase? That we would attract the homeless?” Curley asked.
“I think we would have to establish this as a regional and/or a state issue,” Tom responded. “The addiction’s going down by subsidizing the housing. If that’s the case and people don’t need an incentive to get their lives back, that’s a radical, philosophical change.”