Toeing the Line on Towing: Balancing Parking Enforcement and Homelessness

By Allison von Ebers, Kris Becker, Jacque West, and Kirstin Davis

Like many jurisdictions, Spokane, Washington’s 311 system receives complaints about inhabited RVs and vehicles in neighborhoods on a daily basis. Waste, garbage, and noise can cause neighbors to call and file complaints with the Police Department and Code Enforcement. With departmental resources already spread thin and unable to respond to the daily complaints, many of these cases become a Parking Enforcement response.

During the past several years, parking has adopted a customer service approach to managing these complaints. From issuing warnings and working with other city departments and partner agencies to direct people to human services, including education and alternate options, this “parking problem” has transformed into a multi-department approach to balance the needs of the unhoused and quality of life for neighborhoods.

While not “solving” homelessness, the city’s approach to understanding the root issues and providing alternate options before taking action has transformed how the parking department manages their neighborhood parking needs. Immobilization or towing may not be the best solution for the situation.

Allison von Ebers is with Dixon Resources. Kris Becker, Jacque West, and Kirstin Davis are with the City of Spokane, Wash. They will present on this topic at the 2021 IPMI Parking & Mobility Conference & Expo, Nov. 29 – Dec. 2, in Tampa, Fla.