Bellevue struggles to open safe parking lot for people living in cars
The City of Bellevue wants to open a parking lot for people experiencing homelessness who live in vehicles. The city has the land and the funding, but can’t find a service provider to run the site.
Earlier this year, the City of Bellevue announced it would open a designated spot for people living in cars and RVs to park long term. The site was already picked out: a space near I-405 in downtown already being used as a day center by Congregations for the Homeless, the nearby homeless shelter.
Nico Quijano, Bellevue’s Homelessness Program Outreach Manager, said the location is ideal. It already includes bathrooms with showers, it’s easy to find in a central area, and it's a known spot to people who may have visited the day center before.
What the city didn’t have was anyone to run the site. Quijano and the city needed an organization that could provide case managers that connect people with substance abuse treatment, job training, and other support services.
After the first application period ended, no viable group had applied for the job.
“Some of the organizations that might have stepped up, in this case, just do not have the capacity to add another program or another consideration to their already very heavy workload,” Quijano said.
Service providers who might be qualified to run a site like Bellevue’s safe lot are simply too busy, he said.
“They are doing everything that they can to combat a really difficult challenge,” Quijano added.
The proposed safe lot would require an organization to not only have experience working with homeless individuals, but also families with children. Quijano said that it takes expertise and the right connections to get people the services they need.
“People are experiencing homelessness in a number of different ways and all those different experiences require specific, tailored services — many of which there are not currently enough,” he said.
Bellevue’s safe lot is a pilot program and would last through the end of 2024.
The city budgeted $450,000 for the project, which would pay for the service provider, staffing, and security.
The program comes at a critical time for King County as officials estimate over 53,000 people experienced homelessness at some point in 2022. Many are living in RVs or cars parked in unsafe conditions.
Quijano said there’s room for 20 vehicles at the proposed site. In 2021, Bellevue counted 83 households living in a vehicle.
“There are at least that many people and probably more living in their vehicles in our city,” Quijano said. “They're part of our city, too, and so we want to make sure to help them, to get on the pathway that they need to find stability and housing.”
The city recently ended its extended application window and hopes to find the right group to open the safe lot by this summer.