Seattle proposes safe parking lots for homeless people, some community members push back

SEATTLE -- The last Point in Time Count showed more than half of Seattle’s homeless live in their vehicles. There’s a renewed push to open safe parking lots for them to live in.  Mayor Jenny Durkan set aside $250,000 for the program. The idea is getting mixed reviews.

Lined along the streets in SODO, you can see vehicles stuffed to the roof with people living in their bus or van or car, like William Pritchard.

“Sometimes I think about just going into the hospital for a couple of weeks. Sounds nice. Just somewhere to be to be taken care of. I’m getting old and I’m tired of living like this,” said William Pritchard, who lives in his van.

Pritchard is living in his van as he continues a methadone program ten years sober from heroin. He makes it work but would rather live in a house.

“I’m stressed out every day.  I have anxiety problems with having to move. I just want a place to be at. I’m trying to get into a place and I’m just waiting,” said Pritchard.

In the meantime, the city set aside $250,000 to open safe parking lots for people who live in their vehicles at possible locations like Genesee Park.  However, Pat Murakami with the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council wants the city to reconsider.

“We’ve had the parking of RVs along Genesee already. That’s been a problem in our community and we feel they will follow where the lot is and the people in RVs are more inclined to be drug users,” said Murakami.

She worries the programs are a waste of money and doesn’t trust the city to use taxpayer dollars wisely.

“The city is notorious for wasting money on overheads and programs and the money isn’t trickling down to the individuals who need our help,” said Murakami.

Even worse, she thinks it’s a done deal.

“Boom! They’ve asked for a permit. They’ve done improvements to a park and they’ve made up their mind without asking the community for their input,” said Murakami.

But Will Lemke with the City of Seattle Navigation Team says that’s not true.

“The city is looking at all options right now. We were looking at a location down in Genesee, but we really haven’t made a decision,” said Lemke.

Just last week in Everett, Interfaith Family Shelter’s Jim Dean helped get funding for a safe parking lot for homeless families at a faith-based location.

“They’ve been surveyed.  They’ve got a background check that makes sure there’s nothing that’s going to hurt children; doesn’t mean they’ve quit using drugs and doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. It just means we’ve checked to make sure they won’t add to the problem,” said Dean.

Murakami says Everett’s program sounds better than what Seattle is proposing, but still thinks safe lots aren’t the answer.

“That money is better spent getting services for people. Giving them housing vouchers, a job counselor and a case worker,” said Murakami.

While Murakami remains skeptical, William Pritchard is hopeful.  He wants people to know if he gets a spot on one of those proposed safe lots, he won’t waste the opportunity.

“I keep it clean around me. I don’t want needles or anything like that. I’m stuck to my program and that’s all I do,” said Pritchard.

The South Seattle Crime Prevention Council hosts is monthly meeting Wednesday night.

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