OLYMPIA, Wash. - Olympia is trying something no other city in the region has done: allowing permit-based RV encampment parking on a city street.
For years, Ensign Road near St. Peter's Providence Hospital has been a de facto RV encampment. As of Thursday, nearly 40 motor homes, campers and trailers are parked along the public street—almost every one of them has received a parking permit from the city that allows them to stay indefinitely, as long as they follow a set of conditions.
"We are changing this zone, and I’m giving out the permits" said Kim Kondrat, Olympia’s Homeless Response Coordinator. She scoffs at the idea of being Olympia’s ‘RV parking czar,’ but she will be handling the permits. If occupants don’t follow the rules, she takes the permit.
"I’ve been homeless out here in Olympia for 15 years now," said Wayne, who received a permit. "I really appreciate all that Olympia is doing for us."
City crews are in the middle of moving RVs, running or not, to temporary locations, so garbage can be removed and the street cleaned.
"It’s a fresh start," said Kondrat. "It’s a reset for everyone. We haven’t tried anything like this before."
The permit is temporary and can be revoked at any time at the discretion of the City of Olympia.
Everyone responsible for an RV or vehicle must agree in writing to several conditions. Vehicles and RVs can not obstruct travel lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks, dumpsters, or fire hydrants. Vehicles that do are subject to immediate tow.
Dumping or discharging sewage, trash or any other substance—like oils, auto fluids and paint—is prohibited. Any illegal, violent, threatening, or aggressive acts will result in the immediate revocation of the permit.
Items are not to be stored outside a designated parking space except:
- 1 cooking appliance
- 1 complete bicycle per person (no bike parts)
- 2 two storage bins with tight-fitting lids
- 1 generator
- Up to 2 accessory propane tanks and mobility devices
In a twist on existing parking laws, if the RV is abandoned or has moved away from the permitted parking space for 72 hours or more, the permit becomes void.
Olympia law says if an RV stays in one spot for more than 24 hours, it can be ticketed and towed. A requirement of the Ensign Road permit is for its occupants not to move—unless they plan to leave the area permanently.
"With all this garbage and everything, I can see why the city is disgusted by it, I’m disgusted by it," said Joshua, who also received a permit. "[I] don't really want to be around here, but this is where I’ve ended up."
Kondrat said there is very limited supply of overnight shelter space and services she and her four-person team can offer.
The permitted parkers can have their sewage tanks pumped out by the city once a month. There will be multiple port-a-potties and dumpsters along the road.
If people don’t comply with the conditions and refuse to leave, Kondrat said the RV could be towed, but won’t be impounded if they declare it's their only home. A 2021 Washington Supreme Court ruling said cities could not impound a vehicle and put it up for auction of if its occupants declare it to be their home, and they can’t pay the fines.
"We are not taking their home, they are just not allowed to park here," said Kondrat.
The encampment has been an issue for its nearest neighbor, St. Peter's Providence Hospital for years," said Angela Maki, spokesperson for Providence’s South Puget Sound Region.
"We hope the permit system limits or stops growth for this difficult situation. We have been advocating for a few years with the city of Olympia and Thurston County on a compassionate solution and an end to the encampment on Ensign.." she said.
"I think it’s a great idea, I really do," said Zack, another trailer owner who received a permit. "That way we can keep track of everybody coming through here."
The permitted parking goes into effect immediately and is not available anywhere else in Olympia.