A Homeless Activist Worked to Help Others Living in Vehicles. This Month, the City Towed Away Her Home.

The city towed Chanel Horner’s bus on September 15. Photo Chanel Horner, reproduced with permission

By Erica C. Barnett

Anyone who has watched concrete blocks sprout like crocuses in the wake of RV removals knows that under Mayor Bruce Harrell, the city has taken a newly aggressive approach toward people living in their vehicles.

Although Harrell says the city does not “sweep—we treat and we house”—the fact is that since June of this year, when the city resumed enforcing a law requiring people to move their vehicles every 72 hours, there have been about two scheduled RV sweeps every week, on top of removals sparked by complaints, criminal activity, and vehicle fires. Few of those people have received treatment (which the city does not provide) or housing. Most have either moved to another location or watched their RVs disappear on taxpayer-funded tow trucks—the last time most RV residents will see the only shelter they had.

Chanel Horner lost her home—an old bus she spray-painted with slogans like “RVLoution”—on Thursday, September 15, when a crew from the city arrived to remove it from a street in Georgetown, along with about four other RVs and three vehicles, according to the city’s September encampment removal schedule. Horner had tried unsuccessfully to order compressed natural gas from a nearby provider so she could move the bus, and the towing company she called to pull the bus across the First Avenue South bridge into South Park cited a price of $1,500.

“You don’t have to have a running vehicle to live in it. They may not be vehicles anymore, but they are still our homes.”

Still, Horner had strong ties with local service providers—an active member of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s Vehicular Residency Workgroup, she advocates for RV residents and often helps people move—and the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness said they would pay to tow her bus.

“The solution was to either get [Horner] the fuel or get [her] to a place to get the fuel, and no process that doesn’t allow those things to happen should be funded with city money,” the coalition’s director, Alison Eisinger said. “It is clearly an outrageously flawed process that allows this kind of preventable sequence of events to occur,” Eisinger added, “and everyone should be outraged about it.”

“I really thought we were going to be able to tow it out of there, right until the last minute,” Horner said. Instead, after a brief standoff, Horner left the bus behind, bringing a few personal items with her, including the ashes of her dog, who died in December.

We were sitting outside a Starbucks in Georgetown, shouting over traffic and the occasional roar of airplanes a few blocks from where Horner used to live. The site is now barricaded against future RV encampments with concrete eco-blocks, an illegal but ubiquitous tool used by business owners to prevent RV residents from coming back after sweeps. Horner said the city offered her a spot in a tiny house village—a type of shelter where sleep in small cabins and are expected to accept services and work toward housing—but she considers such offers “pretty tenuous.”

Besides, she said, “I didn’t really want a tiny home because I do believe I’m supposed to be in my bus.” According to a 2021 state supreme court ruling, people living in their vehicles enjoy certain rights under the state Homestead Act, including protection against excessive fines and the sale of a person’s vehicle to pay their debts. To Horner, though, the homestead designation has a special, additional meaning. “You don’t have to have a running vehicle to live in it. They may not be vehicles anymore, but they are still our homes. … We’re not homeless,” she added,  “until Bruce Harrell gives the order to tow our homes.”

PubliCola sent a detailed list of questions to several city departments that were involved in the Georgetown RV removal, including the mayor’s office. A spokeswoman for the mayor provided a boilerplate explanation of RV removals, which the city calls “remediations,” including several different reasons the city might decide to remove an RV.

“She is independent and worked hard to get her bus up and running, and advocates were working to assist Chanel in various ways to help her keep her home.”

The spokeswoman did not respond to any of our questions about the decision to impound Horner’s bus, including why her bus was a priority in the first place; whether the city considers extenuating circumstances like the fact that Horner planned to tow the bus herself; and whether the city considered it a positive outcome for Horner to lose her vehicle in exchange for a shelter offer she didn’t take. We also asked whether the city always considered it “a better outcome to move people out of vehicles and into other forms of shelter, including people who are high-functioning and don’t want or require intensive services”—again, with no response.

A spokeswoman for the KCRHA, which does not directly participate in sweeps, said that “outreach providers were active in trying to find an alternative resolution” to Horner’s situation. “She is independent and worked hard to get her bus up and running, and advocates were working to assist Chanel in various ways to help her keep her home.”

In June, KCRHA announced a contract with the Low-Income Housing Institute to to set up an RV “safe lot” for up to 50 vehicles at a time, with the goal of moving people quickly out of their RVs and into “stable, permanent housing.” Horner says she has no interest in that kind of arrangement; she wants to live in her RV, in a “trailer park” with other RV residents, with restrooms, regular trash service, and a community kitchen—kind of like a tiny house village, but without curfews, check-ins, and a commitment to moving out after a certain period.

“I’m really passionate about setting up the RV park,” Horner said. “I want to start the non-movement—because we’re not moving.”

 

35 thoughts on “A Homeless Activist Worked to Help Others Living in Vehicles. This Month, the City Towed Away Her Home.”

  1. Did Ms Chanel Horner meet the legal obligations of vehicle ownership and operation?….like current tabs and registration….a valid drivers license and liability insurance?….. Tell the WHOLE story before you judge!

  2. The law is to move your vehicle every 72 hours?
    That seems extremely Fair. It seems extremely doable. It seems like it would help stop the criminal element from setting up shop, while still allowing for law abiding car sleepers to be left alone

  3. You will find in San Diego it’s different then most of the country. You don’t have rich middle class and poor. You have the haves and the have nots! The haves through their greed have created the homeless problem in San Diego! Through their artificially inflated property values and through their use of cheap labor flooding across the border to artificially keep wages low for the low income!The haves are living the American dream here! They think things are just great hear! Except the problem they have created with the homeless. But they don’t want to fix the problem and help these people. Oh no that would cost them a couple penny’s they might have to cut back on their lifestyles! So instead they spend their money abusing the homeless! Doing everything possible to dehumanise them and remove them of their civil rights. They make things as hard as possible for them in hopes of just moving them along to somebody else’s back yard. That’s been the policy for years. They remove and refuse to give them anywhere to go to the bathroom. Then they complain about them peeing on the sidewalk. They fine them if they try to remove their garbage.At the same time giving them nowhere and no way to remove it. Then they complain about the garbage. You have to understand the haves are sick people! They are much more mentally disturbed then the homeless! They morally bankrupt! Self rightious self serving vindictive appalling excuses for human beings! If you don’t believe me just read their comments! Alot of them claim to be religious people! If that’s the case I do not envy them when it comes time to meet their maker! Solving the homeless problem in San Diego is simple. But to do you have to remove these entrenched top feeding parasites. Which is never going to happen. The have already come up with their solution to get rid of the homeless. They just passed a law where the remove your constitutional civil rights by declaring you mentally unstable. Because of course if your homeless it’s because your mentally unstable. They have set aside the money to build the facilities. Within 6 months to a year they will start rounding up the homeless and putting them away in these facilities for the mentally unstable for to 2 years! That’s their humane solution to the homeless problem. I believe another country did something similar to their unwanted population in the late 1930s and 40s! I believe they called it the final solution. Read the comments these people have no problem with that! I’m sure half of them would volunteer their precious time to operate the showers!

  4. We are harvesting the grim rewards of Ronald Reagan’s slashing funding for social services. Republicans have never had empathy for the less fortunate, it’s always been “get a job” with no regard for mental stability or physical limitations. Just be honest. You want these people in a place where they are not seen or heard. Well life doesn’t work that way. You either realize there are those less fortunate than you are mentally and physically and give some of your money from taxes to social programs that help these folks, or you see the homeless on your front doorstep. When you vote for leadership with no empathy for those less fortunate this is the result. Democratic leadership has always *tried* to enact programs addressing these issues and have been thwarted by the other party. Oh yes Dems aren’t perfect but the statistics and facts are all there if any care to check them, and they all show the social safety network firmly in the Democrats’ court. There is a place in your heart for empathy. Find it and let it direct your decisions.

    1. At some point people need to take responsibility for themselves. Taxing more and more people into poverty and homelessness is not a productive way to end the homeless issue.

  5. Good on the city. Areas where homeless encampments show up end up with high crime and drug use problems. The article fails to mention where the bus was had those problems plus much more.

  6. I don’t believe “nobody cares” about the homeless…. all of us are just a paycheck away from that situation… my biggest issue is the filth… the garbage… complete disregard for anybody who is not homeless… peeing in the street … tossing feces on the ground?? They create a the story that nobody cares…poor me… but refuse to care for themselves at all… I’m sick of seeing it. Sick of picking up after them… forget the homesteading clause what about the good neighbor rules… learn to use a trash can and stop asking me for money….

  7. Wow. I’m in Saint Paul,MN. And the comments I see above leads me to only one answer that would make the community above me happy. EUTHANASIA.!! How about that for an answer.. The sad part you would actually agree that is what would end this eyesore.. Your comments are calous heartless and shameful. The homeless need a way to return to a fulfilling and prideful way of existence. As far as I can see the empathy is non existent and you folks need to live a week in the fashion of homeless and see what it really like on the streets. Then after a week we all would love to see your attitudes.. SHAME ON YOU.. AND REMEMBER THE GOLDEN RULE… I PRAY FOR YOU CHANGE YOUR WAYS!

    1. Unfortunately, you don’t live here. This encampment was around the corner from where we work. It was hot spot for theft, and nonstop chaos. The police were called one week prior because a man in that encampment chased an employee of a company across the street into his office with a machete. There was numerous stolen cars being cut up (chop shop) in the same group of 30 rv’s that were camped where this article is written. I suppose just reading from your comfortable couch you might have the feelings you have. But for the people trying to earn a living and having their cars broke into while their in the office is OK? Right?
      Always two sides.

  8. Sad. It seems they would help.her find a place to live and she chooses not to. I am disabled. I find a way to pay for anyplace to live. There are people and programs to help. I would not want a big old broken down bus or rv in front of my business! That does not work!

    1. Yes well who the hell r you?a busyness owner?not all of us have the money to live anywhere.i bet you don’t even own a dog.well a lot of us do ,and we re supposed to get rid of them so we can live in some tiny shed,and never get set up into a house.iv worked for many years and just had a run of bad luck .all those places do is give you somewhere to park until you find a place,they don’t find it for you.amd with a short time frame.the city is wasting money and time,with no programs that actually, realistically get you into a home

  9. I understand that she would like many freedoms at taxpayers’ expense. Where can taxpayers draw the line + say “enough” to able-bodied people who need to find work of some sort to fill their time, “supplemented” by social resources. No, you can’t create a blight of trash or derelict vehicles or dangerous folks in vehicles (not referring to her but rather the mix of unpredictable/potentially violent addicted/mentally ill persons) in our neighborhoods. I have been amazed since day one that there weren’t some tough love parameters rather than the red carpet rolled out by city leaders. Laissez faire madness with many people who do not have effective living skills. It was a catastrophe in the making that keeps getting worse + worse.

  10. I work around the corner from where this bus was and saw it every day for at least a year and a half. The article fails to mention that surrounding the bus was absolute filth. Rats. Human feces. Needles. Garbage of every kind. Junk. Piles of stolen bikes and anything else you can think of, literally. Gouled out junkies day and night wandering in the street slowing traffic. Stolen cars being stripped and chopped up in plain site. I personally witnessed this day after day after day. Also fails mentioning that there were 30+ other cars, trucks and campers along with ‘tents.’ The site was the corner of S Hudson St & Colorado Ave S. Tell the real story. Tell how all the businesses have been vandalized. Work trucks broken into and batteries stolen and anything else they can get their hands on. GTFOH with this drivel.

  11. She actually said she didn’t want a tiny house?? Because she would be expected to get a JOB and support herself instead of getting free water,electricity, food. Waaaaaaaa

    1. No if you actually read the article you challenged donkey she didn’t want to live in a place that was not free; that was controlled for no reason. We live in a free country, being homeless doesn’t constitute being treated as if they are less than worthwhile. Tiny houses have you seen them? Your ignorance is annoying.

    2. I think you missed her point. First of all, the story says she is independent, she worked to restore and run the bus even capable of towing the bus herself. Second, she lived on a bus, which is a tiny house, just on wheels.

      She is objecting to the type of house.

  12. There are literally hundreds of RV parks and long-term campgrounds in the state of Washington. Why do people insist on parking in Seattle streets?

    1. Elle, you are misinformed regarding long-term rv sites availability. I am a full-time RV’er (a retiree who travels by choice in my rig), even though I still have my “sticks and bricks” home in King County. Because I’m out exploring the country, I lease out my house but still I need to come back for a medical care periodically.

      And I hate, hate, hate trying to find a place to camp near the Seattle area because it is so hard.To begin with, there are very few campgrounds in King County, and most are seasonal/ vacation sites, not long term rentals. There are only a few more surrounding counties, often in very ruralareas where jobs are scarce.

      Of those few locations with long-term availability,
      most have a long waitlist and most have a ’10 year rule’ (only rigs made in the last 10 years are allowed) or flat out don’t allow bus conversions, no matter how well done. (I have a prestugious, high-end classic and and even my expensive rig will only be allowed grudgingly if they like the pictures I send them).

      Once you have finally made it past “hello”, you find that they have few spots (usually the undesirable ones) which can cost $1000-$2000/ month plus utilities. .

      Perhaps this gives a better idea of why she doesn’t just ” find a spot somewhere. ” For her, there aren’t any..

  13. So, this person effectively insists on a free trailer park/utilities with no restrictions in perpetuity? Nothing else? No tiny home, not even an apartment and permanent supportive housing, etc…And this is society’s problem because?

  14. “Most have either moved to another location or watched their RVs disappear on taxpayer-funded tow trucks…”

    TIL: My tax dollars are paying for at least one good thing in our city.

    1. Tax dollars don’t cover a tow company’s expenses. I assure you the city isn’t paying the tow bill. The company won’t collect the tow fee, won’t collect storage, has to apply for lien fees, has to store it till it clears lien. They then have to dispose of it. Septic tanks, fuel tanks, refrigerators must ne the removed and disposed of properly. Wrecking yards or scrap yards don’t want them.

      People think tow companies make money hand over fist, a heavy duty cost anywhere from $500,000 to over a $1 million. Insurance rates are through the roof just for general commercial liability. Workers comp rates with a tow operator dying every six days throughout the country are crippling tow companies. Tally up business and operating expenses, then see that the tow company has to respond to the call per contract and leave the motorhome in the tow businesses hands to deal with it. No one is compensating the tow businesses for these motorhomes. The only tax dollars used was that of the city workers and officers that were on scene. The tow company will be out a few thousand dollars having to dispose of just one motorhome.

      If you want to have a motorhome and live in it. Maintain it, register it and make sure if you’re on public property you don’t make it a permanent fixture on public land. If you want to make it a home, buy property and make it your home. And just an FYI, that motorhome was initially a transit bus, it was never intended to me a motorhome by the manufacturer that built it. I assure you the vehicle’s registration is listed as a transit bus.

  15. The homestead law RV decision is the worst ever made by a judge. The law should be changed by the legislature so it cannot apply to broken down or illegally parked RVs.

    1. So playing devils advocate if a family who is down on thier luck break down and need to wait for thier next check you want to dump them on the streets pay the impound fees and fines and storage fee. Then you expect them to pay those, fix the issue, and pay gas prices to move and find a new place to live while they save up from you throwing them out in the street. Maybe let’s put you jerks in that situation see how hopelessness feels how hunger feels how you feel when you can’t find a safe place to rest your head. Fools all of you show some heart let’s fix the problem the right way.

  16. A song…to the melody of paul simons “Kodachrome”

    When I look back at all the crap my landlord gives me..
    Its a wonder i aint climbed the walls
    But my lack of code compliant building shelter
    Hasnt really hurt me much at all
    Motorhome
    Gives us the peace and freedom
    Gives us the will to go
    Makes us think all the worlds a sunny day
    I got a life of campin’
    I go where I want to
    Oh mamma
    dont take my motorhome away
    I once had a place i could call my own
    But Code Enforcement wouldnt leave me alone
    So i gave up the gifted precious ground
    For thehome on wheels that i found
    Motorhome
    I gotta motorhome all my own now
    I’ll be campin’ till the end of time
    And tho the maintenance is never ending
    At least what i got is really mine
    Motorhome
    Mamma dont take my motorhome away
    But motorhomin isnt really foolproof
    And one problem lingers after dark
    With my broke and empty pockets
    I cant find no place for me to park
    Motorhome

    1. That’s some funny stuff! I guess you have to laugh at the homeless and their “Peter Pan Lifestyle”, otherwise you’ll cry. Can anybody really believe that you can just buy an old bus and never pay rent to “the man” again? The real problem here is people like Alison Eisinger egging on this sort of behavior and yet, not having any money to get the impounded bus out of hock. This poor women’s friends should be able to come up with $2,000 to bail her and het bus out here, right? Her family maybe? How about a GoFundMe account? If nobody has 2 grand to fix this…. maybe the sad truth is nobody actually cares about her?

      Oh, the injustice of it all! If the folks on the Left really gave a crap about homeless people, they’d gladly fund a solution. Sawant is a Microsoft millionaire… certainly she can just call her rich Socialist friends and build a RV park for all the trashed out motorhomes in Seattle, right? Step up or step off.

      1. Please! Republicans are the ones always complaining about socialism! Do you actually think that they care about the homeless! Trump tried to defend Social Security. He made policy that makes it easy to take away people’s disabity. I received a letter recently stating that they will review mine. I am late stage heart failure. I have diabetes, COPD, sarcoidosis, sleep apnea, stage 2 kidney failure and hyperparathyroidism. What do you think will happen to me if they terminate my benefits? I will be homeless at age 56 and I have worked since I was 15. So, please, stop bashingbliberals and look at what your party is actually doing before you end up loosing your own social security!! Good grief!

      2. The fascist, grifters on the right who are apathetic to the individuals who have no place to live, who have fallen on hard times due the previous open checkbook for the maga baby, psycho crew that everyone is paying for is the reason why there is so much devastation and loss.
        The left cares is trying to do something. Conservatives, GOP, narrow minded individuals who think they are going to spend a dime helping someone rather than trying to make a difference are the problem. Their idiocy In not knowing what the situation is or who the individuals are, creating grandiose stories, not offering any solutions just asinine comments is the PROBLEM!

      3. Youre not nice, i get no one wants homeless people sleeping and pooping everywhere, but this person had a shelter, and lived in it, and they took it from her. Told her to “live here!” We are all humans on this floating rock, if im not represented by my local politicians in the government, well now, theres a thing called no taxation without proper representation!! Until i get represented, and these people do as well, theres no reason we should “pay rent to the government”

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