Civil rights legal agencies and JHO ask the State’s Department of Enterprise Services to halt criminalization attempt and join regional homeless response efforts

Last week, Columbia Legal Services, the Northwest Justice Project, and Just Housing Olympia submitted a joint letter to the State’s Department of Enterprise services to ask (again) that they cease efforts to implement the proposed rule changes and redirect resources towards supporting regional and ongoing efforts to create legal and safe parking options for people living in their vehicles in Thurston County. We have not yet received any response from D.E.S addressing the concerns brought forth in our letter.

You can check out our letter here.

For those unfamiliar with the parking rule changes being proposed by the Department of Enterprise Services, here are a few things to know:

The purpose of the rule changing efforts is to use punishment as a primary way to prevent people living in their vehicles from parking overnight on the Capitol Grounds, with an emphasis on Deschutes Parkway. The rule document itself does not directly mention banning overnight parking along Deschutes Parkway.  D.E.S has already posted signs along  Deschutes Parkway, banning parking between the hours of 10pm-4am. The changes outlined in the document under consideration would make it a punishable offense to violate the parking ban and  would give D.E.S the power to enforce punishments (mainly through impoundment) for violating parking restrictions outlined in the document.

While D.E.S technically stopped accepting public comment on the changes on January 8th, it’s never really too late to contact staff and share your feedback on their proposals. Below are emails for some of D.E.S’ senior staff.

If you are planning to provide feedback, here are some of our suggested talking points:

Our ask: Stop wasting limited time and resources on a response to vehicular living that relies on punishment and displacement- a response that has proven time and time again to be the most ineffective response to homelessness related issues. Instead, divert resources to supporting and engaging in more effective responses that are already in the works. 

Local regional partners (Thurston County and the cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater) are currently working together to try and create safe, legal, and supported Safe Parking options for people living in their vehicles. In our view, D.E.S’ proposed rulemaking changes fly in the face of those efforts and are obstructive to the goals and work of these regional entities. D.E.S’ time and our entire community would be much better served by D.E.S utilizing resources to support this project, instead of wasting them on new parking restrictions and enforcement. 

JHO critique of proposed rule changes and process:

Lack of transparency related to the purpose of these changes: This process and the proposed rule changes are a direct response to increases in the number of people living in their vehicles staying overnight along Deschutes Parkway. This is a housing and homelessness related issue. Yet, D.E.S’ public communication and rule changing language primarily focuses on this as a parking issue, completely avoiding the responsibilities and nuances that they would need to deal with if they were responding to the root causes of the issues they have identified. 

Ineffective response to the issue: This is a housing and homelessness issue and as such will not be effectively addressed through punishment and displacement. 

Problem-moving, not problem-solving: The proposed rule changes, if they go into effect, and if they are used to prevent overnight parking on the Capitol Grounds, will inevitably displace people to surrounding areas. The rule changes may also have the impact of people living in their vehicles losing their only shelter and/or accruing ticketing/impounding costs that will only worsen their situations. 

Pushes the issue off to neighboring jurisdictions that are already struggling to respond to our housing and homelessness crisis: When D.E.S and other State Agencies pursue punishment and displacement responses to homelessness, especially without providing legal alternatives, the most likely outcome is displacement of people living in their vehicles to nearby areas. In this case, that means displacement to the cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater– all places that are already struggling to respond to our regional housing and homelessness crisis. For instance, in the summer, D.E.S displaced about 30 vehicles parked along Deschutes Pkwy. The majority of those vehicles ended up along Ensign Road in Olympia and are still there today. 

Disregard of input from subject matter experts and knowledgeable stakeholders: Local social service providers, people living in their vehicles, housing advocates, and even some jurisdictional entities have been clear with D.E.S from the start that they believe this is an ineffective and harmful response to the situation and have spoken with them about alternative responses, like participating more in our regional response to homelessness. While a fraction of this was captured in the notes shared by D.E.S from listening sessions, there was no reflected change in their chosen response or proposed rules. 

Proposed rule changes do not include any language related to different responses for people who are living in their vehicles or the different legal protections that people living in their vehicles have when it comes to parking and enforcement actions: Over recent years, people living in their vehicles have gained some protections related to parking and enforcement actions. For example, thanks to a local court victory in Seattle, it is illegal for vehicles belonging to people who live in them to be impounded under the threat of auction. D.E.S’ proposed changes do not address rights like these or detail how responses to rule violations should be different for people living in their vehicles, based on these rights.

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