Current Weather
The Spy FM

Seattle’s ‘Car Campers’ Face Lack Of Parking

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
March 12, 2012

In America, poverty often hides in plain sight. And sometimes, it parks in plain sight. Such is the case in one Seattle neighborhood, where an abundance of old RVs and vans parked on the street allude to a world where homelessness is just one “no overnight parking” sign away.

Graham Pruss, a grad student studying anthropology, says there are ways to tell if someone is living in their car or vehicle. Driving through the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, he points out a row of aging RVs, all the windows strategically blocked.

Another giveaway, he says, is condensation on the glass. On colder nights, it’s ice. And if you can see in, there’s the stuff.

“It looks like there’s a lot of garbage,” he says pointing an old Ford Taurus. “But when you really start looking at you see it’s not garbage, it’s pots and pans, it’s plastic bags with clothing … so its like the last things these people are holding on to.”

Pruss has spent some time living down here for research in an RV of his own. Ballard’s a good place for that; it is semi-industrial, so old vans don’t stick out so much and residents can sometimes find temporary work.

Pruss estimates that there are at least 200 “perma-campers,” as they’re sometimes called. Some of them are old timers, but there’s also a wave of newcomers and younger people, like Marcus Featherston, a 20-something who lives in a Ford Econoline van.

Featherston’s van has a fold-out couch, a miniature sink and a fridge running on batteries. He moved into the van last year, after losing a couple of jobs.

“It was kind of either food or rent, and I ended up selling a car that I had and moving in to the van and deciding to go to school,” Featherston says. “[The decision] was kind of freeing to be honest.”

He’s surprisingly accepting about it, and apparently so is his family. His mom, back in Utah, even made him a curtain for the van.

What you find when you talk to perma-campers is that they’re often affectionate about their vehicles. The way they see it, living in a vehicle is a way to stay in control of their lives. In Featherston’s case, the van keeps him from hitting bottom and living on the street. For others, a van can be a step up.

Jennifer Adams calls her big Dodge van “Becky.” Adams was living on the streets, and for her the van is much better.

“First of all I’m not outside,” Adams says. “But I’m still in a freezer; it’s still a steel van.”

For someone like Adams, hunting for a parking spot can become an existential challenge. You can’t park in the same spot more than 72 hours, and lately complaining neighbors have convinced the city to post more signs banning parking between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Adams is left dreaming of that elusive perfect parking place.

“I’m looking for solitude, quietness and nothingness,” she says. “If I could wish for the best parking spot ever, it would have a bathroom.”

That might not be such an impossible dream.

A couple of miles away, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church is offering five spaces in its quiet, residential parking lot. It’s a pilot project, ready to go as soon as the paperwork clears with the city. Our Redeemer’s has already outfitted the parish hall door with a keypad lock so the perma-campers can use the bathroom. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

7AM to 9AM Weekend Edition

Weekend Edition

From civil wars in Bosnia and El Salvador, to hospital rooms, police stations, and America\'s backyards, National Public Radio's Peabody Award-winning correspondent Scott Simon brings a well-traveled perspective to his role as host of Weekend Edition Saturday.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM Car Talk

Car Talk

View the program guide!

10AM to 11AM Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell host the weekly NPR News quiz show alongside some of the best and brightest news and entertainment personalities.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center