Steven Long is a homeless man near Seattle, Washington, who lives in his truck. He has lived in that truck for several years as he finds that rent is too expensive. The law states that the vehicle cannot be parked in one spot on city streets for more than 72 hours. Mr. Long was cited a number of times, and warned that he would be towed, but he admittedly threw the paperwork issued him away. His truck was towed, so of course, he sued the city. 

Judge Catherine Shaffer of King County Superior Court, ruled that the city needed to reimburse Mr. Long for the fines. She also incredibly ruled that the vehicle was his home under the Homestead act. The Homestead Act was an 1880’s frontier era law to protect families from forced sale of their home. 

I do not think the authors of the Homestead Act had this type of situation in mind. This is another case of a judge using a law totally unintended for this purpose, to legislate from the bench. If you think this is a minor scenario, think again.

California is already planning the same protections for people living in their vehicles, and there is legislation already in the stages of being put forth.

Recently I stayed in an RV park in my motorhome. We were told that the law is that we had to check out and recheck in every week. This is because California law prohibits people from having an RV in an RV park in one spot for more than 7 days, even though it is a place for RV’s and a place where we pay rent to be. We noted that half the population in our RV park were residing there either permanently or for months at a time. In fact, many RV owners had built patio’s and sheds and structures on their RV spot, so I am not sure how that worked with the law I had to follow. However, we complied with the state’s ridiculous and intrusive law, re-registered and had an enjoyable stay.

Based upon Judge Shaffer’s recent ruling, I suppose these RV’ers could not be asked to leave. Think of the slippery slope that his judge has created. If a broken down, non-working vehicle is now a home, the police can no longer cite the owner or tow the vehicle.

We taxpayers pay for those city streets, but now police cannot tow a homeless person’s “homestead” away. That is a dichotomy, a contradiction, and ridiculous. If my car works and I have a home elsewhere, I can get cited and towed. But if I say it’s my home, it’s hands off. Think of it, a homeless person can now park their vehicle at the curbside in front of your home, live permanently in it, and you can’t do a thing about it. While you are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars of hard earned dollars for your piece of the American dream, this person can park in front of your house in his homesteaded broken down vehicle. You won’t know what his intentions are toward your children. Where do they go the bathroom? Where do they dispose of their trash? Let’s take Judge Shaffer’s ruling one logical and legal step further and hypothesize that if a vehicle is now a home; what about a tent, or a box someone lives in? This has far reaching consequences for all of us.

If everyone else lives on property that they own or rent; do these people get to live on your tax dollar supported public property for free?  We have to pay property taxes, yet they live for free using our taxes. Are business establishments responsible now for their restroom needs? Do they use the street, your front yard?  Where do they eliminate, shower, and congregate? Will you allow your children to walk and play near these unknown people? The dangers to health and safety are staggering.

The plight of the homeless population presents many challenges. Our courts and legislators struggle with this daily, but simply kick that can down the road. It used to be that churches and religious organizations helped with this issue. It used to be that we had more and better mental healthcare and the way to get those that are mentally ill off the streets.

Now we have legislators and attorneys who want to create laws and lawsuits to “protect” the rights of the homeless. I am not sure that those well intentioned solutions have helped anyone. They have definitely harmed the rights of the rest of the population whose property values are affected; whose health and safety are affected every day. I am wondering how Judge Shaffer would feel about Mr. Long’s plight if he were parked in front of her residence.

In my own opinion, motorhomes are residences when parked in a legal place with access to sewage and water. A broken-down car, a pup tent, a box, are not residences; especially when on public land. We have to think these issues through in a way that does not harm the general population; while helping those truly in need of help.

When Orange County, California issued vouchers for the homeless to stay in motels as their tent city was being removed, many chose to stay on the streets. Chose is the operative word here. We need to face facts that some people want to live this way. They don’t have to live this way. We are doing nothing to modify this behavior, remediate the job skills or provide mental health care. We are simply giving away our freedoms to live in nice neighborhoods; to feel safe; to not have needles and feces on our lawns, and hepatitis outbreaks as we have seen recently in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

We need more thoughtful and rational decisions from our courts and our government on this issue that protects the public as well as the homeless. Mr. Long has a part time job. He is not unable to work. He also states that he does not want to go back to paying rent. That’s it. His sole excuse. Judge Shaffer’s ruling ratified Mr. Long’s errant behavior. In so doing, she has encouraged and enabled thousands of Mr. Longs to act similarly. That’s a very scary slippery slope to create when it’s a judge’s legal and moral obligation to protect us all from harm. 

So, look out your front windows for the “coming soon” broken-down vehicle parked next to your front lawn, that is now a home for a homeless person, thanks to Judge Catherine Shaffer.