How Wallingford got rid of its roadside RV problem

Jan 21, 2016, 8:36 PM | Updated: May 10, 2016, 8:15 pm
homeless rv...
RVs that once lined North Lake Way in Wallingford. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)
(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

While Seattleites plead for help with RVs flooding the streets, one community is breathing a sigh of relief after it was able to move the roadside campers out.

“Almost all of it has drastically improved,” said Samantha Ellis with Dunn Lumber in Wallingford. “It’s become a lot safer and cleaner.”

Related: Wallingford bus resident talks about why she lived there

Dunn Lumber is one of a handful of businesses along Northlake Way that pressed the city to act over RVs camping along the street for extended stays. The campers remained there despite signs indicating no parking was allowed 2-5 a.m.

Wallingford was among a handful of neighborhoods that have experienced a rise in RVs lining the roadside. Common complaints from these neighborhoods are that trash, even human waste is being littered in the area. Crime has also been a complaint. A Facebook page, Murraysville, was created to document the side effects of the RVs’ presence. While RVs moved out of the Wallingford neighborhood, they likely didn’t go far.

Ellis notes she only sees a couple RVs every now and then, but they don’t stay long. It’s not all she has noticed. Dunn Lumber organizes community clean-up events aimed at picking up litter along Northlake Way. In the past, the clean-ups produced between 30-40 bags of trash from along the street and around the RVs. Used needles were commonly found on the roadside, too. But the last clean-up in December produced only six bags, Ellis said. And while they did see a needle case, they didn’t see any syringes.

“We haven’t had any customers complaining, so that’s a plus,” Ellis said. “We’ve also had more parking around the building so employees, customers and vendors actually have somewhere to put their vehicles. That’s fantastic.”

Some employees and residents had complained of “confrontations” with RV residents in the past. Ellis said that has stopped as well.

“I can’t say for sure they were (people from) buses, but we now have less individuals &#8212 that are not shopping at Dunn Lumber &#8212 coming in and taking free wood samples &#8212 which are for kids &#8212 and our cups of coffee.”

What changed?

“There was a very large effort that lasted about two weeks,” Ellis said. “Police coming out making sure tires were inflated, and cars and buses had the fluids they needed. They were meeting with these individuals. Also, the City of Seattle was coming out and clearing away the debris, and shrubbery and foliage &#8212 that took away a certain layer of hiding protection. You could see all the garbage.”

What Seattle did in Wallingford

That city effort took place around September and October, Ellis estimated.

It was a joint effort between city departments &#8212 the Seattle Police Department, human services, and the department of transportation. The city also called in nonprofit service providers, and help from the Road to Housing program &#8212 funded by the city and operated by Compass Housing Alliance.

“To provide case management services,” said Sola Plumacher, acting division director for community support and assistance with the city’s Department of Human Services.

“They engaged a number of car repair shops willing to provide assistance at reduced rates, SPD purchased starters, alternators, gas, tabs,” she said. “Then locating new sites for vehicles, or housing options for folks willing (to leave the RVs).”

“We all felt really positive about that experience,” Plumacher said. “I also think the individuals we worked with during that experience felt it was positive.”

Some of the Northlake campers took advantage of the services offered, such as housing assistance, others needed help getting enough money for a first- and last-month deposit on an apartment. Another person needed help getting back to their family.

“It was a mix of the cops, the community and really going door-to-door, or bus-to-bus, and saying ‘we are enforcing these laws starting now. We haven’t been, but they have always been here. And we are now enforcing the rules of parking,'” Ellis said. “That made a difference.”

Others wanted to stay in their RVs. But they couldn’t stay in Wallingford.

Where did the RVs go?

Plumacher said about three RVs along Northlake Way were broken down and couldn’t move. Once the city assisted with repairing them, it was just a matter of finding a place for them to move to.

To keep an RV within the law in Seattle, it has to park in an area that is zoned for a vehicle its size, and it can only stay for 72 hours before it has to move.

“Vehicles have really limited options where they can park for 72 hours. Those sites are typically in industrial areas,” Plumacher said. “We encouraged the vehicles (in Wallingford) to move to a new site that would allow for them to stay for 72 hours. Then we worked with the advocates to help move the vehicles to the next location when 72 hours came up. Really, it was intensive support.”

Where are such areas in Seattle?

“The majority of them are concentrated in the Ballard area, the Interbay neighborhood and in SoDo &#8212 that’s where the majority of our industrial areas are that can accommodate vehicles of this size,” Plumacher said.

The City of Seattle knows that’s where people are living in their vehicles. And not just Ballard or Interbay. Magnolia and Queen Anne are two other neighborhoods that have started raising concern over the issue.

Related: Seattle business videotapes alleged drug-dealing RV in Magnolia

The police department recently conducted an unofficial count of people living in vehicles throughout those areas. Seattle police estimate:

• There are about 26 vehicles with people living in them in Magnolia
• There are about 70-90 vehicles in Ballard with people living in them
• There are about 70-80 vehicles in South Seattle with people living in them
• There are between 250-400 tents set up around Seattle sheltering the homeless

Neighborly advice

Ellis understands that the RVs can be an issue for people in Seattle. She has two pieces of advice for Seattleites seeking help with the RVs in their own neighborhoods.

“Be patient. And be understanding,” she said.

Ellis said that residents and businesses along Northlake Way had to call and meet with city officials repeatedly over a year to get action in Wallingford.

“By the time it got hyped in the media, it was already past a lot of meetings that we held,” she said. “We were doing this in the middle of the summer. Now it’s the winter and temperatures are dropping.”

“These are human beings. Just because they don’t live the same lifestyle as you doesn’t mean that we can treat them differently,” Ellis said. “I’m not saying what they are doing isn’t disrupting your life, but at the same time you need to meet them halfway to find a safe, effective way so you can cohabitate together.”

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How Wallingford got rid of its roadside RV problem