Homeless parking program at Prado Day Center: A lot to live on, a night at a time

Steve Gingerich enrolled in Prado Day Center’s overnight parking program, which started Friday at the facility in San Luis Obispo. ‘It helps everyone rise above whatever happened to them,’ he said Monday.
Steve Gingerich enrolled in Prado Day Center’s overnight parking program, which started Friday at the facility in San Luis Obispo. ‘It helps everyone rise above whatever happened to them,’ he said Monday. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It has been nearly a year since Kimberley Frey-Griffin and daughter Shelby have had a permanent address.

Two months ago, they were given a recreational vehicle to live in, which they were grateful for, until it became impossible to find a place to park it without being harassed by law enforcement.

“I don’t want to be treated as a second-class citizen, especially if I am being a good neighbor and not doing anything to anybody,” said Frey-Griffin, who shares the RV with her daughter and girlfriend Carri Minton.

They say they have finally found a peaceful place to rest by enrolling in San Luis Obispo’s first overnight parking program.

The six-month test program, managed by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, provides five parking spaces at the Prado Day Center in San Luis Obispo for people living in their vehicles to use overnight. All five spots are filled.

Since the program was launched Friday, there have been no reported problems, said Dee Torres, the center’s homeless-services coordinator.

The parking lot is behind a locked gate, monitored by video surveillance, and a portable toilet on the grounds is available for those staying there.

All of the people enrolled in the program are adults, mostly couples. A single, elderly woman is also enrolled.

The effort is the first of its kind in San Luis Obispo, but has long been used in other communities such as Santa Barbara to help combat the number of people sleeping in their cars on city streets.

The issue came to the public’s attention when officers began enforcing a San Luis Obispo ordinance that prohibits overnight camping on city streets. The City Council approved the parking program in late March.

“It took a while, people resisted, and we faced a lot of criticism before we could even get the program running,” Torres said. “But I do really believe that the solution lies in having sufficient programs to meet the needs of people, and enforcement is a component of that.”

Those who park at the Prado Day Center are required to participate in case management and want to transition into housing.

Many people who camp in their cars along Prado Road initially criticized the program because the case management was perceived to be too stringent.

Participants in the parking program must agree to set aside a portion of their monthly income for future housing. The amount varies, but can be up to 70 percent of a person’s monthly income.

Steve Gingerich, who is living in a camper with his girlfriend, Tamara, said the case management will help them get back into a house.

“This program is a great thing,” he said. “It helps everyone rise above whatever happened to them.”

Gingerich previously parked on Prado Road but said it was impossible to sleep through the night not knowing when a police officer might be through to issue tickets.

“When you can’t afford rent or food as it is and you get a ticket for illegal parking, it just sets you back further,” he said. “When you’re constantly worried, you can’t rest.”

The goal is to transition people enrolled in the program from sleeping in their vehicles to housing within six months, Torres said.

“It’s not about just wanting it,” Torres said. “Sometimes people do all the right things and it is still really hard. We really have to partner together and dig around and look for solutions, which we always find somewhere, somehow.”

City Councilman John Ashbaugh, a vocal advocate for increased homeless services, was at the program launch Friday.

“I am very impressed,” said Ashbaugh, who helped push one of the client’s cars into the parking lot when the engine sputtered just short of the gate.

“This is a good start,” he said. “You always have to maintain a certain optimism in endeavors like this, and I have full confidence in the quality of the staff and volunteers that will sustain this program.”

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