Fitting One Piece of the Housing Puzzle
BYLINE: Sharon Browning, PPTFH Vice-President
Last year’s official homeless count reported about 52,765 homeless individuals in the city and county of Los Angeles; about 15,700 of them lived in vehicles. Since 2016, 37% of all homeless individuals served by PPTFH’s outreach team who were “voucher-ready” waited one month to two years for housing—meanwhile living on the street or in interim facilities—due to the lack of suitable affordable housing. Though housing development is not part of PPTFH’s mission, we have to face the fact that for our continued success, we need to better understand Los Angeles’ housing problem and its implications for our work.
At PPTFH’s January 28 community meeting, Dr. Scott Sale, Executive Director of Safe Parking LA, discussed Los Angeles’ program for providing overnight vehicle housing in protected parking lots. For over 15 years, Safe Parking has been a strategy for addressing homelessness in Southern California. Santa Barbara has 28 lots with 123 spaces, and San Diego has two lots with 50 spaces. The Los Angeles program began in June 2017, has seven lots with a total of 130 spaces and more lots are in development.
Safe Parking is a transitional program that provides a maximum of 6 months’, nighttime-only refuge. It serves families, college students, single women, veterans, and the working poor. Clients are primarily capable, motivated individuals who, for various reasons, have fallen on hard times. (These individuals are considered the easiest to help among all those experiencing homelessness.) All clients are subject to a two-step screening process that involves an application and interview. Each is required to provide proof of vehicle license, registration, and insurance; and each is required to be connected to a social service provider who will work to move them into permanent housing. Single men are subject to background checks.
Regulations require no guns, drugs, alcohol, or smoking; no camping, cooking, or flames; and quiet between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. Vehicles must vacate the premises by 7:00 am. Per signed agreement, clients can be immediately evicted and towed for noncompliance. Recreational vehicles are not allowed because the occupants often want to remain housed in their RV’s and are not as inclined to work toward permanent housing.
Safe Parking lots can be owned publicly (federal, county, city) or privately. Each lot is provided with $1–$2 million in insurance, unarmed security while clients are present, restrooms and wash basins, and a $500 monthly stipend for private lot owners. LAMC 1848.36 makes it legal for any building or lot to serve as a cold weather shelter for 365 days.
Dr. Sale provided considerable food for thought. The scale of Safe Parking isn’t large enough to solve Los Angeles’ affordable housing problem. However, it does provide a safe, low-risk, highly manageable model for communities to consider to make limited space available for people experiencing homelessness and to solve a small part of the housing puzzle.