Manny Flores was happy to have city officials support his community organization’s safe parking program, reported KTLA last December. “The community has really galvanized itself behind this program to support it, because they understand that they’re in our community anyway, so we might as well keep them safe,” he said of the Southern California efforts.

Can we do that on the Coastside? 

Safe parking programs are run in cities large and small throughout the Western United States to address the growing number of people who live in cars. A program called “One Starfish” describes why people choose to live in their cars in Santa Barbara as “divorce, death of spouse or family, loss of job, spousal abuse, foreclosure or simply skyrocketing rent.” No doubt that’s why many people park and sleep on Coastside streets. Still more need to sleep near the work they can find, far from the homes they can afford. 

We can agree, I think, that homelessness is a very complex social and personal condition that doesn’t lend itself to simple or complete solutions. Every case is different. Every effort to help a few contributes to helping many. Many other communities have already moved ahead with safe areas to park at night with access to personal care, case management and assistance for permanent housing. Through experience, they have simple guidelines that seem to respond fairly to all.

An evaluation of five safe parking programs by the city of Long Beach in 2017 highlights important features of effective programs. First, the goal is to move people from their cars to permanent housing. All five programs are run by a nonprofit agency and use resources such as parking lots from private businesses and city or county governments. All programs maintain a strong relationship with the local police departments. Four of the five programs provide safe parking from evening to early morning only. 

What kind of money does it take? The San Francisco Chronicle told us in October that a Santa Barbara program with 133 parking spaces — far more than what the Coastside needs — costs $450,000, “most of that funded by government grants, but the city contributes $42,000.” Last December, a report by the University of Southern California found that successful safe parking programs are funded by a broad spectrum of sources, including county and city programs, faith-based groups, private donors, HUD Homeless Prevention funds and more.

Not all safe parking programs succeed. The San Francisco Chronicle also found that Santa Rosa’s program shrank more than 50 percent “because of budget cuts.” Seattle’s program, “once a pioneer in safe parking … met resistance in city government, eventually diminishing to one patch of land with eight RVs.”

Perhaps a safe parking program on the Coastside would catch a growing issue before it gets out of hand. Do we have the interest and the will among our city leaders and community organizations to test a program and find out what would work here? If not safe parking, how will we help?

Douglas Howatt is a local writer.

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