“Every One Night Count reveals one-third of those unsheltered are vehicle residents…”
- written by The Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett
Father Daniel Berrigan wrote, “Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope that you might have bought it or baked it or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot, or die a little, even.”
Recently I went to where a young woman was parked in Seattle’s U-District, pretty beat up 2 door import, busy street, referred to me by Parking Enforcement. We do mitigation for Scofflaw, just for those with 4 or more tickets living in their vehicles. The law is unforgiving and unchanging, so we are the band-aid. She’s younger than most. Car packed to every corner save the driver’s seat. Court reports to me she has 20+ tickets.
When I walk up and say hi, I give her my card, tell her I’m here because Parking folks (part of the Police Department) sent us a request for outreach. (We at least have gotten that much cooperation from the City, but then getting Council to amend the ordinance is still not happening). I ask the usual questions. Title in her name? etc. Good side of the equation answers on all for her. I explain she needs to go talk to the folks at the Court. (The Court has also worked well with us and with those who come in to resolve the tickets).
Since she’s under the “outreach umbrella” they won’t boot her. She says, “they already did boot me, and then they turned around and took it off.” I said aloud, “wow, something’s working, anyway,” knowing this is the agreed protocol (no boot if we come to do outreach). She’s shy, likely wary. I am a stranger. Big deal, or no deal to her that my card says, “The Rev.”
She says she has a job, nights. I ask if her car runs. “Yes,” she says, “but lately I’ve needed a jump.” The car is packed everywhere save the driver’s seat, is missing the driver’s side window which is covered in plastic. I advise a safe place or two to park. “You have to get to the Court,” I say again, “it’s the first key step.” I go on, “here, I haven’t got any cash,” and she’s already shaking her head, “no,” as I take her hand, open it, and put in $5-ish of quarters.
Her face says it all. The pain is right there. Of being homeless, needing help. Shouldn’t have to ask anyone. I see it, feel it. Both of us maybe wondering, how the hell is this happening? She shakes her head “no” again as I close her fingers around the quarters. I say, “yes, you will need these for meters near the court.”
I can barely hold myself together. Usually this is not this hard. It is today. She mouths, “thanks.” I say I will check back tomorrow, and if anything happens to threaten her, call. My number’s on the card. I go to my car. She’s going to the library. She says she has a job nearby at night. Maybe she has a chance, I think.
Usually this is hard but not this overwhelming. I weep a little as I leave. I’m reminded of Berrigan, the “look on her face.” And then I recall that a person who is homeless has and ought be given dignity. That said, there is no dignity in homelessness, and the former more often than not gets swamped by the latter.
Lately, there seems to be little dignity in the system either. What we do is wholly unfunded by Seattle despite every One Night Count revealing one-third of those unsheltered are vehicle residents. The system is full of cracks. I met a woman in one of the biggest cracks; that is, those living in vehicles. What can be done? Amend the law. There are almost two dozen Seattle laws that harm vehicle residents. Provide harm reduction funding, for repairs, gas, and so on. Find safe places to park with bathrooms and trash receptacles. Include these vehicle residents into the coordinated entry pathways for stable housing.
Seattle is not unique. Every city in King County brings its own unique harm. But this is a Seattle story and it isn’t doing much for Roni and nearly 1,000 others.
- The Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett is Director of The Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness in residence in residence at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church 3030 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue WA 98004 (425.442.5418 )
- special thanks to Rex Hohlbein for the photos: http://www.facinghomelessness.org/