Car Living Skyrockets In Seattle. Is It Affordable Housing Or Homelessness?

homeless in seattle photo by roy wells is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What significance might be attached to a January 2018 discovery that there was a huge increase in the number of Seattle’s homeless found living in vehicles? Thanks to a legal ruling last year, one possibility is that more than 3,000 homeless vehicle-dwellers are not legally homeless at all. Is it a cause for celebration, or for even greater concern? That is an open question.

In ‘survival of the fittest’ America, a home is a privilege, not a right. That sentiment was expressed some years ago by Democratic President Bill Clinton. His statement highlighted an apparent oversight in America’s Constitution.

While not an American right, a home would seem not to be clearly defined as a legal concept either. And in Seattle in 2017, a judge made the controversial decision that the definition of a home could include a vehicle, if that was where a person resided. Read more at the two-way: A Homeless Man’s Truck Is His Home, Judge Rules In Seattle

Living in a home, however ill-defined or unusual it may be, is protected under the Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution.

Without sufficient reason, authorities cannot enter a home, seize belongings, and then, adding insult to injury, take the home with them as they depart, leaving the former homeowner standing homeless on the sidewalk. That’s what happened to a man living in a vehicle in Seattle, actions the judge overturned as unconstitutional.

Move forward to January, 2018 and the annual One Night Count — a point in time census in King’s County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, home to the third largest homeless population in the United States. The count provides a fascinating glimpse of the diversity of more than 12,000 people found homeless that day — their age, gender, self-identified health issues, and as well, the physical spaces they occupy as they struggle to survive.

One of its most startling statistics is the increase in people who live in vehicles. In 2018, that number rose to 3,372 from 2,314 the previous year. It approaches the number living in emergency shelters (3,585), which together far outnumber all other locations, from vaguest ‘living outdoors’ at one extreme, to transitional housing at the other.

In parts of America that experience cold winters, an exploding number of homeless people living in vehicles most probably points to the reality of unhealthy, if not suicidal, rough sleeping, to use a popular British term for outdoor living.

Explore these and other homelessness and housing issues in Seattle Weekly: New Regional Homeless Numbers Spotlight Systematic Issues

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