Sandy Tweed and the “safe park” team at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend hope to turn their parking lot off 22nd Street into a refuge for women living in their cars. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Sandy Tweed and the “safe park” team at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend hope to turn their parking lot off 22nd Street into a refuge for women living in their cars. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Unitarian Universalists plan park for women living in cars

Overnight stays would be secure; online meeting set for Tuesday

PORT TOWNSEND — Artist Sandy Tweed was traveling alone last summer when her van decided it couldn’t make it any farther than Missoula, Mont. She had to find somewhere to park for the night.

“I searched and searched,” Tweed recalled. She found a well-lighted hospital staff parking lot and spent much of the evening thinking about her privilege as someone who could afford to get the vehicle fixed and drive home to Port Townsend.

“As a single woman, it is scary,” she said.

Tweed is part of a team of men and women planning what’s known as a safe park, a place where people who live in their cars can stay.

The parking lot of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (QUUF), 2333 San Juan Ave., is the spot with spaces for three to six vehicles.

The safe park team — Tweed, Dean Carr, Maria Mendes, Cynthia Becker, Carl Allen, Barbara Morey, Julia Cochrane, Kathy Stevenson, Share DeWees and Kate Kinney — also plans to provide a portable restroom, a garbage can and, after some time passes, access to the shower inside QUUF’s building.

An online public meeting about the plan is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, with a link provided at QUUF.org.

The safe park will be for women of all ages and women with children — “the most vulnerable population,” Tweed said.

“We’re attempting to serve a population that feels threatened,” having nowhere to sleep but in their cars.

Her team will work with Dove House and Bayside Housing & Services to help women access the community resources to help them move forward, she added.

Port Townsend Police Chief Thomas Olson said he’s been invited to send a representative to Tuesday’s meeting, but isn’t yet sure who that will be.

“I’m in favor of anything that will be helpful to our challenges when it comes to homelessness,” he said of the safe park plan.

“We do have some challenges, with vehicles, parking around town, staying there for days and weeks at a time … We’re not out there looking for it, but if it’s obvious, we’ll make contact and tell them to move along,” Olson added.

Business owners ask the police to make contact with people who appear to be camping in their cars, he said.

Tweed and the safe park team, for their part, want to extend a clear welcome.

“Imagine being the person with only your car for shelter,” a letter on the QUUF’s website notes. “You are forced nightly to search for a place to park. This means balancing real risks. Being in an area you are deemed a threat, or merely unwanted, risks the police rousting you in the middle of the night. Parking in hidden areas makes you more vulnerable and unsafe.”

Imagine pulling into a lot where, by contrast, people smile, nod or take a minute to chat with you.

“During the night, you have access to sanitation,” the letter stated. “If you feel threatened, you can call the police, knowing you belong here. More importantly, the police know that too. You can feel secure enough to get a restful night’s sleep. The impact of that tiny thing is huge.”

The safe park will have a volunteer host available at all times, along with video surveillance cameras accessible to the host and the rest of the team.

“Initially we will welcome guests to park from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. We are weighing the option of moving to a 24-hour model to provide even more stability,” the letter continues.

Tweed said a letter about the safe park will be hand-delivered to the closest neighbors, while anyone with questions can email [email protected]

“This kind of program is ridiculously cheap,” she said, adding other safe parks around the region — including in Kirkland and Edmonds — have provided insights for her team. RVs won’t be permitted, Tweed noted, since, if such vehicles break down and are abandoned, towing them is prohibitively expensive.

“I want to give a shout-out to Good Man Sanitation,” which is providing the portable restroom,” Tweed said.

“That would have been our main cost,” she continued. “Otherwise, we’re using resources we have,” including the parking lot and the volunteers.

Tweed and her team hope for other accommodations. The QUUF auction, starting Nov. 14 and running through Nov. 21, will have a “fund-a-need” item known as a “tiny commons.”

This is a small building like the one volunteers built for Pat’s Place, a temporary tiny-home village to be erected near the 10th and Rosecrans corner in Port Townsend.

The commons would have electricity, a refrigerator, microwave oven and a table and chairs, so families could store perishable food and charge their devices; children could do homework.

Since the safe park plan has taken shape, no community members have voiced opposition, Tweed said.

“The city has been great; zero roadblocks,” she said.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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