Homeless Parking

Virginia Williams attempts to jump start her van before Mount Vernon starts enforcing new parking restrictions Thursday on the 100 block of West Broadway Street. Williams is one of a group of eight to 10 homeless living on this block, and had been staying in the area for about two years.

MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon City Council agreed Wednesday to restrict daytime parking on a block in the city where a community of homeless live in their cars.

The 100 block of West Broadway Street, between the Skagit County Public Defender’s Office and a vacant lot, became a popular place for people to stay about two years ago, after Skagit County brought in portable toilets and temporarily let people stay in a parking lot.

“This is an attack against us,” said Keith Johnson, one of the eight to 10 people who live there.

After a unanimous vote at Wednesday’s council meeting, parking is now restricted to three hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., as it is in the city’s downtown and on several nearby streets.

Mayor Jill Boudreau said she doesn’t know why this block was left out of the original parking ordinance four years ago. She said adding this block to the ordinance now was done so rules would be consistent in the area.

The city’s actions are in no way targeted against those living on that block, she said.

“We have to be consistent as a government,” she said. “We can’t treat one area different than another.”

Boudreau acknowledged the impact the council’s decision will have on the homeless living there, but said it’s important to consider the impact their presence has had on nearby businesses and residents.

She said several have complained to the city about trash and excessive late-night traffic, and the presence of the homeless takes parking spots away from those visiting the downtown area.

Boudreau said her office has received complaints from those being harassed by the homeless as they walked by the area, and that the city police department responds to an above average number of 911 calls on this block.

She said extending the parking restrictions should “mitigate that impact,” and that the city would react in the same way to any block that received similar complaints.

“The city has the responsibility for serving the whole community,” she said.

Johnson, who has lived in his van on the block for about two years, said he doesn’t know where he will go.

He said he and others have made an effort to keep the street clean and avoid disrupting neighboring homes and businesses.

Ronnie White, who also lived on that block, said he was dismayed by the city’s decision, and is worried for the safety of some of the homeless as they disperse.

“There’s safety in numbers,” he said.

He said he doesn’t want to park his car in a residential area, but said he doesn’t know where else to go.

“That’s the question,” he said. “Where do we go?”

Boudreau said she has encouraged the homeless who have lived on that block to sign up for a bed at the overnight shelter at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which was created in a partnership with the city, Skagit County and the Friendship House homeless shelter.

She said the city doesn’t have the funding to provide a shelter on its own, but has used its limited resources to try and help this group of homeless.

She said the police department’s social worker, Erin Von Fempe, has consistently met with those who were displaced when they were told to leave the neighboring county-owned parking lot, offering to reconnect them with family and find them help getting their cars fixed or getting other services.

County Deputy Administrator Kayla Schott-Bresler said the county was aware of this “unsanctioned overnight parking area” at the Public Defender’s Office lot, which grew after the portable toilets were brought in.

The lot operated for about a year until the county decided in early November to tell the homeless to leave.

The city has an ordinance that sets rules for faith-based organizations to host safe overnight parking areas, but no churches have volunteered to host such sites.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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