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King County judge’s ruling shines spotlight on homeless living in vehicles

SEATTLE – The number of homeless people on the streets across Western Washington continues to rise every year and those people are forced to figure out ways to stay warm and find shelter. ​

Some people turn to vehicles, but one homeless man's truck was towed after he didn't move it after 72 hours. He sued the city and last week a judge ruled that his truck is a home, according to reporting in The Seattle Times.

The case opens questions about where and for how long people should be able to park their car and live out of vehicles.

The attorney for the homeless man in Seattle believes the case is a civil rights issue. That could have broad reaching impacts to other areas where many homeless people avoid shelters or living in a tent, and instead are living out of their cars.

“If I paid rent, I’d be broke all the time and I’d be depressed,” said Steven Long.

Long is living and working out of a pickup truck a friend loaned him. He works in construction – the back of this truck not only holds his tools, but also his clothing and most everything else he owns.

“Something needs to help a lot of people out there, not just me,” he said.

For Long, the legal issue began  in 2016 when Seattle police had his truck impounded for parking illegally. He lost one court case, but on an appeal, a King County judge ordered some of his fees refunded – and said his truck wasn’t just a vehicle, it’s also his home.

It was an argument Long's attorney Ann LoGerfo successfully argued.

“Vehicles where people actually live and have to live, the city should show home humanity and respect for civil rights, the Constitution and should manage the situation that’s fair and lawful for the people living in the vehicles,” she said.

Homeless people outside Seattle also take shelter inside their own vehicles, even if it’s a choice of last resort.

According to several point in time counts of our area’s homeless, officials found in 2017 that more than a third of Snohomish County’s homeless population was living in vehicles. Counts found about 1 in 5 homeless people in King County were also living inside vehicles. In Pierce County less than 10 percent of its homeless population was also found living in their cars.

Long says he likes living in his car and it’s a way he can save money.

And while the legal impact his case could have is still unknown, he hopes policy-makers don’t force homeless people to lose everything they own all because they’re stuck living out of their car.

“Well, if it’s an individual’s home, they shouldn’t treat it as just property,” he said. “It’s probably all you have.”

The Seattle City Attorney’s office told Q13 News in a statement: “The City disagrees with the trial court’s ruling and is evaluating its options.”