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Court Ruling Prompts Tacoma To Revisit Rule Prohibiting People From Living In Their Vehicles

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Right now, it’s illegal to live in your vehicle on a city street in Tacoma for more than 24 hours. But the Tacoma City Council will weigh a measure to extend that to seven days.

The change comes in the wake of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The judges said a similar ordinance in Los Angeles that prohibited people from using a vehicle as living quarters was unconstitutionally vague. So in response to that decision, Tacoma city staff crafted a more precise definition of what it means to inhabit a vehicle, for example, sleeping in it or setting up bedding. And the city proposes allowing people a week to use a vehicle as shelter before it would be a violation.

Allyson Griffith is with Tacoma’s community based services program.

“The thought behind that proposal was that we would like to better be able to connect our individuals living in vehicles to services, so 7 days kind of gives us more of an ability to do that,” she said.

Griffith says outreach workers with a program called Positive Interactions try to help homeless people find shelter or other housing as well as drug treatment or mental health counseling when needed. She says there is bed space in shelters right now. Seattle does not have an ordinance against living out of a vehicle. But people have to move cars after 72 hours on city streets.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.