Skip to main content

Bellevue's safe parking challenges highlight its homelessness crisis

caption: Most of the RVs at Green Lake Park had some sort of sign that read, "this RV is my home." Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.
Enlarge Icon
Most of the RVs at Green Lake Park had some sort of sign that read, "this RV is my home." Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.
KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Earlier this year, the city of Bellevue started putting together a safe parking pilot program for people experiencing homelessness.

The idea was to provide a place for people who use their vehicles as their primary residence to park that vehicle without the risk of being towed and to provide access to water, bathrooms, showers, and services.

The program is now in limbo, and not because of some of the usual suspects like NIMBY neighbors, regulatory hurdles, or an uncooperative city.

Instead, the city can't find someone to run the program.

The lot has a site in downtown Bellevue in an area called Lincoln Center, where a traditional shelter is already located. The site would accommodate around 20 cars.

The city has budgeted $450,000 for the pilot program and started looking for an organization to run the program earlier this year.

"At the end of their application period, they had no viable candidates. They had nobody who had applied for the job that could really take this on," said KUOW reporter Casey Martin. "They were told, we can't manage another project. We can't take on another program right now."

He said that the city is determined to find someone to run the program. Funding for the program goes through 2024.

"This really highlights the crisis of homelessness in King County and Western Washington. Eastside suburbs have been criticized before for not enough shelters," Martin said. "When a pretty affluent city like Bellevue steps up and wants to offer half a million dollars for a one-year pilot program to open up a safe parking lot, and they still can't even open this, it really speaks to that — a lot of service providers are a little overwhelmed."

Other organizations are running similar services elsewhere on the Eastside.

The Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland runs safe parking for women and families living in their vehicles. The program offers showers, portable toilets, dog runs, and kitchen space, among other amenities.

Karina O'Malley has led the program since 2011 and said that she was excited to see another safe parking program emerge on the Eastside.

"I have a list of folks that I want to refer to that program," O'Malley said. "I have reached out to various nonprofit providers that I know. And the challenges that they're telling me are their current programs — they're having problems, finding enough staff to run them. That it's a very, very difficult employment situation right now."

O'Malley said that shelter space is currently difficult to find for people on the Eastside, noting that with the exception of the young adult shelter, shelters in the area are full every night.

She said she also noticed a dip in people parking at the church over the last three years, but has seen an uptick in those numbers since the eviction moratorium ended.

Listen to the full conversation with Martin and O'Malley by clicking the play button at the top of this story.

Why you can trust KUOW