SLO’s pilot safe-parking program for homeless off to a strong start

City Council will discuss a long-term system to aid those trying to secure stable homes, jobs

acornejo@thetribunenews.comOctober 1, 2012 

The pilot program launched in San Luis Obispo 10 weeks ago to provide people living in their cars with a safe place to park at night has been deemed successful so far.

The City Council is expected to decide tonight whether it will create a permanent safe-parking program.

The goal of the test was to provide homeless people with a safe place to sleep while connecting them with case management and eventual housing. Five parking spaces at the Prado Day Center were used.

The Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, which operates the program, said it has operated at or close to the five-vehicle capacity since the program began June 22.

Thirteen people, making up seven households, have used the program. There are eight people, making up five households, using the program now.

Of those, one person is now employed and close to securing subsidized housing in the county. Another couple has also received a voucher for subsidized housing.

“Based on information provided by CAPSLO and the Police Department, the program is accomplishing its goal of providing a safe place for those living in their vehicles to sleep while working towards transitioning into permanent housing,” according to a staff report that is to be presented to the council tonight.

The San Luis Obispo Police Department has been called to the Prado Day Center parking program three times: once for trespassing, once for a welfare check of a program participant and once for a domestic violence case in which a woman was assaulted by her partner, who was arrested.

Only those people who commit to case management and remain drug-free and alcohol-free are candidates for the program.

City staff recommends that those requirements remain. Additional recommendations that are to be made to the council tonight include requiring criminal background checks to prevent anyone with a violent crime conviction from participating, requiring participants to show residency in San Luis Obispo County for six months, and only allowing social service providers to manage safe-parking programs within the city.

The number of people living in their cars has increased in recent years for a variety of reasons, including the economy, a lack of transitional and affordable housing, and limited shelter beds, according to city officials.

Of the estimated 1,592 homeless people in San Luis Obispo, only 20 percent of those are ready and willing to participate in available services and transition into housing, according to new data provided by CAPSLO.

Forty percent of the city’s homeless people are battling mental illness or addiction and struggle with enrollment in programs intended to help them. The remaining 40 percent of people have been identified as unwilling to access services and as preferring to be homeless.

A survey done by the city and Prado Day Center earlier this year determined that more than 60 people are living in their vehicles on city streets.

Of those, 24 were identified as potential candidates for the overnight parking program because they were willing to follow the guidelines necessary to participate.

A similar pilot program offering three spaces at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Arroyo Grande was suspended in September after participants — three people staying in one vehicle — were not following some of the program rules, such as abiding by the check-in and check-out times. In addition, the caseworker who was managing potential applicants could no longer do so because of workload constraints.

During a six-month period, Arroyo Grande police reviewed nine applications for that program, six of whom met the criteria and were approved. However, only three applicants ended up registering for the program.

If the San Luis Obispo City Council decides to pursue a permanent safe-parking program, a series of public meetings will be held in coming months to get feedback with the goal of bringing a conceptual plan before the council sometime during the winter.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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