Homeless need more than five parking spaces

SLO program is a good start, but much more must be done

March 25, 2012 

RVs and other vehicles line the street along Prado Road in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The San Luis Obispo City Council took a significant step last week when it approved a pilot safe parking program that allows up to five vehicles to stay overnight at the Prado Day Center.

But only five vehicles?

What about the remaining families and individuals who will still be living out of cars and campers?

Consider: A recent survey in the city of San Luis Obispo showed that more than 60 vehicles were parked long-term on city streets.

The need is here now — not six months from now when the pilot program wraps up.

If the city really wants to reduce the number of RV dwellers illegally camping along Prado Road and elsewhere, it should ramp up the safe parking program as quickly as possible to allow at least, say, 15 or 20 spaces at various locations in the city. We urge other communities in the county to start pilot projects as well.

And to encourage participation, we caution against setting the bar too high by requiring all clients to take part in a case management program. That will be a requirement at the Prado Day Center lot.

We agree that priority should be given to those willing to take advantage of career counseling and other guidance offered through case management. The most urgent step, however, is getting people off the street, and we would hate to see a stringent case management requirement interfere with that.

Clearly, the situation, which has people clandestinely living in cars, trucks and RVs, isn’t healthy or safe for campers or for neighboring residents.

Consider it from a sanitation standpoint alone: Without access to a restroom, where are people going to urinate and defecate? Through safe parking programs, sponsors such as churches and nonprofits can at least provide restroom facilities.

Typically, they provide much more, including screening and supervision — Prado Day Center is even installing video cameras to provide real-time monitoring — and emergency help should a client need help starting a broken down car, for instance.

Also, putting clients in touch with case management services — medical care, job placement, food banks, permanent housing programs —can help them get off the street for good.

Keep in mind, too, that programs can be tailored to meet the concerns of neighboring residents by limiting the number of campers; requiring a buffer between parking areas and residences; limiting the lot to women only or to families; and requiring additional screening of applicants. These are some of the steps that Santa Barbara takes.

That said, we know there will be lingering concerns and it will take strong political will to start safe parking programs throughout San Luis Obispo County.

Already in Arroyo Grande, some neighbors are trying to block a program from starting at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, which is at the end of a residential street. The congregation there is proposing a six-month pilot program that would allow three vehicles to park in the church lot. Neighbors are worried, though, that there will not be adequate supervision and that as soon as some RVs are allowed, unauthorized campers may be drawn to the site as well.

In response, the church has agreed that members of the congregation will serve as monitors and will take turns spending the night at the lot for the first month.

That sounds like a reasonable compromise, and we strongly urge the Arroyo Grande City Council to approve the program Tuesday.

Together, San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande can be the start of a network of safe parking lots throughout our county.

That won’t be a substitute for permanent housing, but it will be a way to help provide for one of the most basic human needs: A place to get a good night’s sleep.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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