EVERETT — The city of Everett is moving forward with a “safe parking lot” for families living in vehicles.
It would be the first sanctioned lot of its kind in the city and will be run in partnership with faith-based groups. The spaces aim to provide a safer environment for people who are sleeping in their cars.
About a third of the unsheltered people — folks sleeping outdoors — surveyed in Snohomish County’s 2018 Point-in-Time count were staying in a vehicle.
“We’re trying to set up and fill in a hole in the service family,” said Jim Dean, executive director of the Interfaith Association for Northwest Washington, which runs a family shelter in Everett.
“There are already people living in cars in the neighborhoods,” Dean added. “When someone gets rousted we want some place for them to go.”
Interfaith is taking the lead on the project, which also is being supported by members of Everett Faith in Action, a network of local leaders. The group has been working to create a safe parking program since last year.
“My hope is by May 1 we can get people parking,” Dean said.
On Wednesday, the Everett City Council approved a $25,000 grant for a safe parking pilot program. A little less than half of that money will go to setting up the site — adding fencing, garbage pickup and a portable toilet — according to Dean. The rest will pay for case management for residents provided by Interfaith.
“We don’t want people to stay and live in the parking lot for two years,” Dean said. “We want this to be a pathway into a home.”
The goal is to move families to a shelter or permanent housing as quickly as possible, said Kari Goepfert, a spokesperson for Everett, in an email.
The pilot has funding and the case management, but it’s missing a crucial piece — a location. Dean said he is in talks with several area churches that have expressed interest in hosting.
The grant will not become final until a plan for operations and public outreach is completed and reviewed by the city, Goepfert said. The plan will include coordination with the police department.
The pilot is modeled off a safe parking program launched three years ago by Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation. There, 10 spots are reserved in a lot behind the church for families and single women experiencing homelessness.
In Everett, the spots will be limited to unhoused families with kids. Single women may be allowed in the future, Dean said. The pilot is starting with five spaces, but would be allowed to grow up to 10 eventually.
A “safe parking lot” will be a benefit to both homeless families and to the wider community, said the Rev. Carol Jensen, a member of Everett Faith in Action.
The pilot is expected to last through 2019, and could be continued.