Yakima to consider safe parking lot for houseless people

Camp Hope director suggests investing in Pallet shelter prefab tiny homes instead

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima City Council is looking into the idea of turning an empty lot down the street from Camp Hope into a secure parking lot for people living out of their cars.

“The first thing that we need to provide is safety and the first step toward safety that’s frequently desired is personal space and a lockable door,” council member Kay Funk said.

According to the Yakima County Annual Point in Time Community Report for 2021,there are more than 600 people living without shelter in the county. About 50 people who responded to the survey noted they were living in a boat, car or RV.

Funk proposed several ways the city could help provide options for people living without shelter, including designating a city-owned parking lot for vehicles qualifying under the Homestead Act tobe able to sleep safely.

Council member Brad Hill suggested using the city-owned property near South 24th Street and East Nob Hill Boulevard, located across from the Yakima Area Arboretum and Yakima Greenway off of Interstate 82.

However, Hill noted they might need to look into potential legal issues surrounding the terms of a previous lawsuit brought by the Yakima Greenway when the city was considering building a low-barrier houseless shelter on that property.

Yakima Greenway Foundation Executive Director Kellie Connaughton said they had received no communication from the council prior to the meeting and will be consulting with legal counsel about whether the proposed parking lot would violate the terms of their lawsuit.

“Overall, the Greenway feels that this is a knee jerk reaction to a very complicated problem,” Connaughton said.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct staff to start looking into a potential secured parking lot and then bring that information back to council members for consideration at a future meeting.

Council member Soneya Lund said she agrees that something should be done to help people living without shelter, but disagrees that designating a secure parking lot is the answer.

“The idea isn’t to take these people and hide them away, out of sight out of mind,” Lund said. “The point is to make sure that they’re connected to services that ultimately can help them get housed.”

Lund suggested reaching out to local churches to see if they would be willing to designate a couple of spots in their parking lots where people could park and sleep for the night.

Camp Hope Director Mike Kay said he appreciates the council giving their attention to helping people living unsheltered, he does not believe creating a secure parking lot is the best solution.

“I think the parking lot idea is a horrible idea,” Kay said.

Kay said living out of a car isn’t safe even if it’s in a secure parking lot. He said those lots were designed to be an option for counties who do not have permanent shelters.

“We have shelters here that are willing to work with people there, so why would we encourage them to stay out on the streets?” Kay said.

Additionally, Kay said people living out of vehicles might not even be receptive to taking advantage of that type of assistance and might not want help at that time.

“They’re what we call service resistant,” Kay said. “They’re usually still dealing with addiction, or mental health issues.”

Kay said the better alternative is for the city to continue working with Camp Hope to potentially purchase Pallet shelters — relatively low-cost prefab tiny homes — that would expand their shelter’s existing services.

“We actually have a site plan drawn up here,” Kay said. “We’re in conversations with the city to add those tiny homes or transitional homes to the existing footprint of Camp Hope.”

The shelters can be built in just a few hours and are easy to move around. Kay said they could purchase 50 Pallet shelters of various sizes for about $500,000 including tax.

Kay said they would designate different shelters for single adults, couples and especially for families. He said their family shelter has been at capacity almost every day since it opened earlier this year.

“We have about anywhere from nine to 21 families on a list on any given day, waiting for shelter,” Kay said. “We just think this is much better, a much safer alternative. They’d have access to meals, laundry, showers, all that kind of stuff as well.”

Kay said been fundraising and working with the city to develop a plan for moving forward and plans to meet with city staff next week.

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