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News / Northwest

Bellevue has a safe parking lot program — but no one to operate it

By Paige Cornwell, The Seattle Times
Published: May 15, 2023, 7:42am

BELLEVUE — Bellevue’s safe parking program would provide a clean off-street lot for people who live in their vehicles. The program has a dedicated spot, support from the Bellevue City Council and city funding of up to $450,000 per year, over two years.

But so far, the city hasn’t been able to find an organization to operate the lot, planned at the city-owned Lincoln Center property.

A first round of requests for proposals from potential operators went unanswered. The city is now in its second round, with a deadline less than a week away.

“Plenty of organizations were excited about us offering this, plenty who had interest,” said Nico Quijano, Bellevue’s homeless outreach coordinator. “But the reality is that organizations are confronting a complex issue and at maximum capacity.”

The safe parking pilot would provide spaces for up to 20 vehicles — including RVs — in the lot at Lincoln Center, which has been used temporarily as a men’s shelter run by Congregations for the Homeless. The people living in their vehicles would have access to water, bathrooms and showers. The primary goal, the city has said, is to help them find stable housing through services like help finding employment and medical and mental health care.

An estimated 80 to 100 people live in vehicles parked in Bellevue, accounting for about a fifth of people living unsheltered in East King County, according to city documents.

Multiple organizations that initially expressed interest in Bellevue’s program cited concerns about not having capacity to take on a project of its size. UHeights, the fiscal sponsor of the Vehicle Resident Outreach program, considered submitting a proposal but felt the timing wasn’t right for the organization, Vehicle Resident Programs Manager Jen Manlief said in an email. The organization’s executive director is transitioning out of the role and a new leader wouldn’t be up to speed for a new program, she added.

Safe parking lots are relatively new, and intended to help residents sleep in a secure spot, connect them to resources and decrease law-enforcement calls because of illegal parking. In Bellevue, a vehicle can’t be parked on the same block for more than 24 hours; violators receive a verbal or written warning, then a notice of parking infraction if they haven’t moved.

“We see a lot of folks who are residents in their vehicles, who can’t afford a home, who don’t have anywhere else to go,” Quijano said. “We’re recognizing that we want to meet the needs of everyone in the city.”

Several safe parking lot programs operate on the Eastside and are run by religious organizations. Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland, for example, offers its parking lot for women and families living in their cars. Overlake Christian Church has space for vehicles with up to 15 single men and couples in its lot.

Larger-scale safe parking lots have had more difficulties in launching. Seattle planned a 30-vehicle lot on property near Genesee Park and Playfield in 2019 but opted for smaller lots throughout the city following criticism from neighborhood residents.

It’s unclear what the city will do if there’s no response to this round of proposal requests. Quijano emphasizes that the city is open to ideas an operator might have in how it wants to manage a safe program.

“This is an urgent need,” he said. “We want to treat it with urgency.”