Scofflaw enforcements will hit hard for Ballard's homeless living in their cars
Beginning July 5, 2011, vehicles in scofflaw status – those with four or more overdue, unpaid parking tickets – will get the boot.
The city is cracking down hard on those motorists who scoff at parking tickets as the city says $26 million is owed in a backlog of scofflaw citations. The city is expecting the scofflaw enforcement to recoup an estimated $3 million in the next two years.
Once a vehicle has been booted, the owner has 48 hours (excluding weekends) to settle all unpaid scofflaw-eligible parking tickets, collection fees and a $145 boot fee or risk getting his or her car impounded.
If a car is impounded and the scofflaw-eligible parking tickets and associated fees (including tow and boot fees) are not paid in full or a time payment plan is not established with the Municipal Court’s collection agency within 15 days, then the vehicle may be auctioned.
While the city sees the scofflaw enforcement as valid measure to generate some revenue, homeless supporters are speaking out against the law, fearing it will put more people on the streets.
"One-third of the unsheltered population in Seattle lives in their cars," said Ballard resident Graham Pruss, who recently studied this issue in depth while working towards an honors thesis at the University of Washington. "And it's going to be very hard for them to come up with the money in 48 hours."
"The more I looked into it, the more I found that this really is an overlooked population," he said.
While collecting data about the homeless community who live in their cars in the Ballard area, Pruss was living in an RV one week at a time among the car-campers for five months.
Pruss said car-campers are a group that has been heavily ticketed in recent months due to the limited areas for overnight parking or extended stay parking.
"These aren't tickets for speeding or purposely breaking the law. These are tickets due to zoning, no overnight parking and 72 hour parking rules which they're getting because they have no other place to go," he said.
Pruss said this has been particularly true in the Ballard area.
According to his mapping, Pruss said there are currently anywhere between 90 and 110 vehicles in Ballard that belong to homeless people.
Ballard is attractive to car-campers due to industrial-zoning, seasonal labor, the food bank, public transit and other resources, Pruss said.
"Many of these people are the working poor. They work in the fishing industry as seasonal labor and they're just looking for a leg up," he said. "I think that if these were tents, people would take note."
Pruss said that between the aggressive ticketing and the scofflaw enforcement, the city is sending a strong message to car-campers who cannot afford to pay their tickets.
"It's lose your vehicle or leave town," he said.
"I'm surprised this has gotten this far. I hope the city will show some leniency because in the end it's just more people on the streets that we have to support with shelter, medical expenses, and care."
Pruss had been involved with Stop Impounding Homes, a collective effort from various homeless support groups to inform the homeless community about the scofflaw enforcements and to help prevent them from losing their vehicles.
Among the support groups is the Ballard Homes for All Coalition who's fighting for amnesty from the city's scofflaw ordinance for homeless people. Taking inspiration from the city of Eugene's Safe Parking Program, the Ballard Homes for All Coalition is also trying to start a Car Camp Pilot Project and is currently looking for host sites.
"There needs to be a place for these people to go that's legal and that offers resources like a dumping site," Pruss said.
Carol Cameron, a former homeless woman who now works for Mary's Place, echoed his sentiments.
"It's going to be really, really hard for homeless people to pay those tickets and that car you're threatening to impound is someone's home," said Cameron.
"I'm not saying homeless people have no responsibility to abide by the law, but there aren't many options for them."
Cameron said too many homeless people are already being turned away from shelters because of limited space and the scofflaw enforcements will likely put more people out on the streets.
"There simply aren't enough resources for them and for many their car is their last resource," she said.
The city is giving those in scofflaw status a final chance to pay the tickets and avoid the boot and the possible impoundment with the Court’s Collections Reduction Program. Tickets may cost less if they're paid before July 15.
"Extending the program will enable more individuals to clear their accounts, which can result in removal from the scofflaw list or clearing a hold on their driver’s license. Interest and fees on parking tickets and infractions will be waived if tickets are paid in full. This does not apply to those entering into a time payment plan," according to the Municipal Court of Seattle.
For more information on the scofflaw enforcement, visit www.seattle.gov/scofflaw.
To learn more about efforts people are doing to help homeless people from losing their vehicles, visit stopimpoundinghomes.org.