People who live in vehicles may get parking help in Arroyo Grande

Program would allow up to three vehicles, used as homes, to park at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 7, 2012 

Arroyo Grande could become the first city in San Luis Obispo County with a new, albeit small, overnight parking program for people living in their vehicles.

The pilot program, if approved by the Arroyo Grande City Council on March 27, would allow up to three vehicles to park overnight at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. After six months, if the program is successful, up to five vehicles could be allowed.

This week, the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission recommended the council approve the plan.

“If we can help a few people during a time when they really need a place, then we’re happy to be able to do it,” said Rev. Valerie Valle, who brought the proposal to the city last year. “We see it as part of our ministry.”

St. Barnabas has long been involved in efforts to aid the homeless. Members serve hot meals each month at the South County People’s Kitchen, and the St. Barnabas thrift shop has given away more than 1,700 bags of toiletries.

Valle, who also is vice president of the 5Cities Homeless Coalition, was also inspired by an ongoing program in Santa Barbara that provides parking areas as well as social services and case management services. Some material from that program was used to develop Arroyo Grande’s pilot program.

“We really want it to work because if it works, it can be a model for other places,” Valle said.

It’s unclear how many people are sleeping in their vehicles in the South County. In a 2011 countywide report on the homeless population, 58 of 274 respondents to a survey question said they had slept in a vehicle the previous evening.

Efforts to find safe parking solutions are also under way in San Luis Obispo, where police have recently cited numerous people for sleeping in their vehicles or motor homes in violation of city rules. Many of them were parked on Prado Road near the Prado Day Center.

City leaders and advocates, including Dee Torres, who oversees the center, are working to create a safe-parking pilot program that would allow up to 25 vehicles to park there at night.

The San Luis Obispo City Council will learn more about the proposed program later this month.

The Arroyo Grande plan would be limited to people with a connection to South County, either through work, school or family. A case manager from Community Health Centers will suggest people for the program, with priority given to families with children and elderly and disabled people.

Arroyo Grande police would receive all names of possible participants to check for a history of violent crimes or sexual offenses.

Parking would be limited from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., with permits issued for each vehicle. St. Barnabas plans to improve lighting in the parking lot, and a church volunteer will drive through the lot after 9 p.m. every night to ensure the rules are being followed.

Participants won’t have access to the church; instead, a portable bathroom with a hand-washing station will be outside.

The Arroyo Grande proposal raised a few concerns in the surrounding community. St. Barnabas is located at 301 Trinity Ave. in southeast Arroyo Grande, on an 8.5-acre lot that’s about 250 feet away from the nearest house.

The city received five letters from residents who are worried about their safety. Several suggested the church allow people to sleep inside its facilities, or that vehicles would be more appropriately parked overnight in city parking lots or at City Hall.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service