The Forman family’s refurbished yellow school bus is hard to miss.
Solar-powered, complete with a kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms, the bus is home to the usually wayfaring Gypsy and Tim Forman and their son. But during COVID-19, they needed a legal place to park it long-term — it’s especially difficult to stay under the radar in a Walmart parking lot, Gypsy Forman said, when you drive a school bus.
And during the coronavirus outbreak, with many public resources that would usually be available to people without traditional homes shut down, their options were narrow.
“It’s scarier, because we don’t have a safe space,” Gypsy Forman said.
About a week ago, she said, a friend told them about a potential solution. Soon after, the family moved their bus to a new Safe Parking Zone at C-Tran’s Evergreen Transit Center.
It’s a place where people living out of their vehicles can shelter-in-place, with access to resources such as bathrooms and hand-washing stations. The transit center is located at 1504 N.E. 138th Ave. in Vancouver.
The site is operated by Vancouver Parks and Recreation staffers, in partnership with C-Tran. It’s the second such zone to crop up during the coronavirus outbreak; a previous Safe Parking Zone at the Vancouver Mall opened April 2 but shut down on May 7 as the mall looked toward reopening some businesses.
The initial program was largely regarded by city leaders as successful. The mall parking lot had served as a temporary home to about 60 people living in 40 vehicles.
“It’s unfortunate that participants had to experience an interruption in service, but we are excited to be partnering with C-Tran on the next chapter of the Safe Parking Zone,” Vancouver Recreation Manager Dave Perlick said in a media release. “We believe this site will offer a comfortable location for the Safe Parking Zone program for the duration of the state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.”
The new parking lot opened up to residents living in their vehicles on June 10. People parked at the new site will be able to stay until July 31.
There’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing that her family won’t be booted off the property in the meantime, Gypsy Forman said. She added that city staff had passed out face masks to residents on Monday.
“People are kind. When they say people are mean and not nice, they just haven’t needed them yet,” Gypsy Forman said.
According to the city website, staff at the Safe Parking Zone are still registering new vehicles from 10 a.m. to noon on weekdays. Once the slots fill up, the city will start a wait list and let would-be registrants know of any future openings.
Participation in the program is free.
Occupancy is capped at two adults per vehicle, and families with children under 18 are allowed. Pets are also allowed, though they’re required to be kept on a leash when outside the vehicle.
Residents must agree to maintain social distance — six feet apart from anyone who doesn’t live inside the same vehicle — and limit trips to necessary travel only, like grocery runs.
Vancouver staff are accepting public donations to support Safe Parking Zone participants. Any food donations must come from a commercial kitchen or food bank, though residents may donate personal hygiene items such as soap, sanitizer, deodorant and toothpaste.
To arrange a donation drop-off, email firstname.lastname@example.org.