The Cars to Housing program will allow Jim Dean, executive director of the Interfaith Association for Northwest Washington, to nearly double the capacity of the family shelter. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

The Cars to Housing program will allow Jim Dean, executive director of the Interfaith Association for Northwest Washington, to nearly double the capacity of the family shelter. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Everett shelter working with church on safe parking program

‘Cars to Housing’ pilot aims to provide a more secure environment for families living in their cars.

EVERETT — Every day the Interfaith Family Shelter gets about eight calls from people looking for housing. With only 11 spaces, most have to look elsewhere for help.

A new Cars to Housing pilot aimed at families living in vehicles will almost double the shelter’s capacity.

The lot will be managed by Interfaith, which is working with Cascade View Presbyterian to develop the program on church grounds in south Everett across the street from Cascade High School.

“There are not many options for families that are homeless who want to stay together,” said Cynthia Jones, the homeless liaison for the Everett School District.

Interfaith is one of the few shelters in Snohomish County that will take an entire family.

If a family doesn’t want to split up, they often have to stay in their vehicle, Jones said.

“What a homeless student needs most is a home, but we have to find interim steps as well as we work to find more affordable housing and work to find permanent solutions for families,” she said.

The Everett School District had 1,266 students experiencing homelessness last year, according to data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Cars to Housing project will be the first sanctioned safe parking spot in Everett.

Cascade View Presbyterian is planning to host five families experiencing homelessness in a rarely used area of the church’s parking lot.

“This sounded like a wonderful opportunity for us to do something on our own property in a way that makes an impact, but also would be pretty easy for us to do,” said Luke Hyder, the church’s pastor.

There will be fencing on three sides of the space to provide privacy for both the families sleeping there and neighbors of the church, Hyder said. A port-a-potty will be brought in.

“It’s a pretty secluded part of the parking lot,” he said.

Cars to Housing is not just a parking space. Families also will be working to transition into housing.

In March, the city of Everett approved a $25,000 grant for the pilot program. A little less than half of that money will go to setting up the site — adding fencing and a portable toilet — according to Jim Dean, executive director of the Interfaith Association for Northwest Washington.

The rest will pay for case management for residents served by Interfaith.

“The one thing we don’t want is someone to live there for the next two years,” Dean said. “People shouldn’t be living in cars, but there they are.”

Everett Faith in Action, a network of local leaders, has been working to create a safe parking spot since last year. The group said that providing space for families living in cars while working with a case manager to secure housing would benefit those individuals and the wider community.

More than half of the unsheltered people surveyed in Snohomish County’s 2019 Point-in-Time count were sleeping outside, many in a vehicle.

The five spots are expected to fill quickly. Despite demand for emergency shelter, capacity in the system isn’t growing, Dean said. If things go well at this location, he wants to see the program expand to other local churches.

Dean and Hyder hosted several community meetings with the neighborhood and congregation.

Gary James, the leader of the Pinehurst-Beverly Park neighborhood group, where the lot will be located, said many in the area have voiced concerns about the program.

“It would be fair to say there is some skepticism, but considering the homeless situation, specifically for families, the project may be worth the effort,” James said.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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