The big local news of the week has me lost. A judge ruled the city charged a man way too much to get his impounded truck back after they found out he had been living in it. And that he should get his truck back. It was his home, therefore the judge said the Washington State Homestead Act applied to it. Oh yeah, and the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines matters, too.
What? The Washington State Homestead Act? As best as I can figure out, it was a law passed before the other turn of the century, the one with starched shirts. It was supposed to protect White settlers from having their homes sold out from under them.
Vehicle dwellers are doing the city and the county a favor. Providing homeless shelters for people whose vehicular homes are taken away would cost more in the long run than the revenue from the fines. As much as 10 times more just within a few months.
It would make sense to pay people who take themselves out of the shelter system a stipend, acknowledging that they are saving public money. And don’t take their vehicles away, so they can keep saving shelter costs.
I’m all for the city finding a way to give people who live in vehicles breaks from towings and fines, because I lived in a car for a time, and my feelings about things always revolve around me.
On the other hand, I get why the city is appealing this decision. For one thing, our city attorney is probably muttering to himself, “First they tell me some law says I can’t have a pet squirrel, now this? What the heck is the Washington State Homestead Act of 1895? I’m supposed to know laws from the century before last?”
For another thing, think of what the city could look like if everyone who is about to get their car, truck or van towed tells the tow-truck driver the vehicle in question is their place of residence? How do we know who is really living in their vehicles and who is just lying to get the exemption?
There’d be parked cars and trucks everywhere! If everyone parks their vehicles, how could we have the gridlock we’ve come to cherish?
The federal government may have an answer. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), under direction from Ben Carson and other impaired individuals, is rewriting its mission statement to eliminate any talk of inclusiveness. They no longer want hud to say its goal is to support housing free of discrimination.
It couldn’t come at a better time for Seattle. With all these people about to say, “Believe me, I’m living in my truck, don’t tow it,” we need a quick way of sorting out the ones we really do believe and the ones we think are faking it. We need to be able to do some old-fashioned discrimination.
We need law enforcement authorized by not only the city but by HUD itself and the federal government to saunter right up to some guy claiming to live out of his truck and say, just like in the movies, just like John Wayne, “You don’t look to me like you’re from around these parts, Mister.”
And then they can engage the potential miscreant in conversation and gauge whether they speak like a real Seattleite. Or do they have themselves a foreign accent, like they’re from Poulsbo, or from as far as Twisp?
“Are you from Okanogan, fella? I thought so. Then by the authority granted to me by Ben Carson and hud and the city of Seattle, I do now declare that you can’t get a pass to live in your vehicle in this city. I hereby officially discriminate against you, and your truck may be towed, and it’s going to cost a heap of fines.”
Or, here’s another idea. Instead of forcing the courts to decide these cases one by one and racking up huge costs that way, we could pass a law that sorted out who from him and her in advance where people could just have permits fixed to their vehicles attesting to the fact that it’s a dwelling, and the city could do random eligibility reviews periodically, like the state does with people on disability.
And then, create housing for everybody.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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