Arroyo Grande council approves homeless parking plan

Pilot program for overnight stays at church gets unanimous approval

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 27, 2012 

Before a packed council chamber Tuesday night in Arroyo Grande, Jan Stone, a case manager for Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, talked about one of her clients, someone who could benefit from a pilot parking program for people sleeping in their vehicles, which the council approved.

The client, a 56-year-old woman with bone cancer, has been living in her car since the apartment she managed was foreclosed, Stone said. Stone said her client would be an ideal candidate for the program if it were given a chance.

Arroyo Grande council members gave it that chance, unanimously approving the six-month pilot program for three vehicles (plus a supervisor) at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church at 301 Trinity Ave.

“I’m proud to be able to stand up here today and give this a shot, and be leaders not only in Arroyo Grande but in our county,” Councilwoman Caren Ray said.

If city officials deem the program successful, up to five vehicles could be allowed. The program will get an in-depth review after three months.

It is not expected to cost the city money, except some additional staff time for police to conduct limited background checks and enforce other program rules.

The program will be limited to those with a connection to South County, either through work, school or family. Before being accepted, Arroyo Grande police will check for a history of violent crimes or sexual offenses.

Participants will be issued permits, will only be able to enter the parking lot between 7 and 9 p.m. and must leave by 7 a.m. Participants won’t have access to the church; instead, a portable toilet will be outside.

The council heard from 21 people Tuesday; 14 in favor and seven against. Opponents voiced concerns about safety — both their safety and the safety of the program participants — and increased noise and traffic.

A few are worried the program will become a magnet for other homeless who will try to park along Trinity Avenue.

“The city is obligated to help us keep our families safe and our homes secure,” resident Marie Cattoir said. “If this council approves homeless parking in the city, I suggest you follow Santa Barbara’s example and use city facilities as a test case before you consider parking sites in residential areas.”

A few suggested that church members allow a few people to sleep inside their facility, or that the city should find another, more visible, location.

“This isn’t probably the ideal location, but it is a viable location and I think with the oversight the church is providing … that this will be a successful program,” said Councilman Jim Guthrie, who sits on the countywide Homeless Services Oversight Council. “I do think this will be the start of many locations.”

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