A pilot program intended to provide a safe parking place for a few of the citys homeless now living in their vehicles is scheduled to be discussed by the San Luis Obispo City Council tonight.
The council is also being asked to consider creating stricter laws pertaining to overnight camping in vehicles that would make it easier for police officers to combat what some say is a growing problem.
The program would accommodate five vehicles in the Prado Day Centers parking lot overnight. The Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County would oversee the program.
Only those people willing to enroll in case management and who are committed to returning to permanent housing would be allowed to park there.
There would also be a zero-tolerance policy against drug and alcohol use. Sex offenders are not eligible. Homeless people who have been living in the city for six months or longer take priority.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department ramped up its enforcement against people living in their vehicles in mid-February after a number of businesses complained about growing nuisances such as trash strewn about, trespassing and the stench of urine and feces.
Police are relying on an ordinance that prohibits people from sleeping in vehicles outside designated areas such as campgrounds or mobile home parks, but it is difficult to enforce.
Those living in motor homes or trailers, mostly along Prado Road, say they dont have anywhere else to go. Some are trying to raise families. Others consider themselves safer having moved into vehicles from camping outdoors next to creeks.
So far, 48 citations have been issued since mid-February. In addition, a number of vehicles were tagged for violating a city ordinance that prohibits them from parking in the same place on public streets for more than 72 hours. Four cars have been towed, but none had people living in them, Capt. Chris Staley said.
A recent survey done by city and Prado Day Center staff determined that there are more than 60 people living in their vehicles on the streets. Of those, 24 were identified as possible candidates who would be willing to follow the guidelines necessary to participate in the program.
It is unclear how many people would use the safe parking program if it is approved.
The statistics that are collected from this program will be very valuable as we can finally stop speculating about this issue, said Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County. Having facts about why people are choosing to sleep in their vehicles rather than a shelter and what theyre willing to do about it will help us to decide if more sites are needed.
Torres said it will take an estimated $20,000 to fund a six-month pilot program. That money would go toward video cameras to monitor the parking lot at night, a port-a-potty and other needed supplies.
If approved tonight by the City Council, the program would begin as soon as the funding is secured, Torres said.
A similar program will be considered by the Arroyo Grande City Council on March 27 that 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.
The City Council will also be asked to consider ways to strengthen laws that will assist law enforcement.
The growing number of people living in their vehicles in recent years has correlated with an increased number of health and safety issues noted by city staff.
In the past 18 months, the Fire Department has responded to more than 400 calls for medical emergencies, trash and brush fires, and hazardous waste issues related to homeless encampments, according to the city.
The Police Department has also noted increased calls in service involving the homeless or transients for issues such as loitering, robbery, suspicious behavior and medical needs.
Options under consideration include prohibiting motor homes from parking in one place for more than two hours; establishing a parking zone that prohibits parking within a certain distance of businesses; or limiting the hours that recreational vehicles can park on city streets during specific hours of the day.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.