Olympia, WA – The highest court in the state handed down a ruling on Thursday that will protect homeless people from having their vehicles towed if they’re living in them.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 12 on a case that had drawn widespread attention to the homelessness crisis in the state, KING reported.
The homeless man at the center of the groundbreaking case was warned four days before his RV was towed that he was in violation of a city ordinance that required a vehicle in a city parking space to be moved every 72 hours.
After his vehicle was towed, he couldn’t afford to get the RV back, KING reported.
The state Supreme Court justices said it was unconstitutionally excessive for Seattle to impound a homeless man’s truck and make him pay the city $550 in towing and storage.
The court also held that vehicles that homeless people were living in should be considered homes, and therefore cannot be sold at public auction to pay debts, KING reported.
“[Cities] can enforce all of the laws they have on the books,” Bill Maurer, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice Washington Office, said. “What the supreme court case said, essentially, is that when you’re imposing fines, you have to look at the person that you’re imposing the fines on, and if the fine is going to destroy them, if it’s going to ruin them, if it’s going to destroy their livelihood, then that’s an unconstitutional fine.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes acknowledged there would be “wide reaching implications” from the court’s decision, KING reported.
“This decision will have wide reaching implications for how Mayors and City Councils from every Washington city respond to people living in their vehicles on public property,” Holmes explained. “We anticipate that elected policymakers will adjust their policies to align with today’s ruling, and our attorneys will advise them as they make their decisions.”
There were an estimated 11,751 homeless residents in King County as of January of 2020, KING reported.
That was up five percent from 2019.
Of those, 53 were sheltered and 47 percent were unsheltered, KING reported.
The number of people who reported living in their vehicles increased from 2,147 in 2019 to 2,748 in 2020, with the jump credited to the expansion of safe parking programs for the homeless.
The homeless count wasn’t updated in 2021, KING reported.