Arroyo Grande church to end pilot overnight parking program for homeless

Leaders of an Arroyo Grande church who spearheaded an overnight parking program for people living out of their vehicles have decided to stop the program and won’t pursue a permit extension from the city later this month.

Neighbors of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church should receive a letter in the next few days informing them that the church won’t seek to extend a temporary permit once it expires Sept. 27.

The letter, signed by the Rev. Valerie Hart, says no one is participating in the program and no applications are being processed.

Over the next few months, church leaders will analyze several issues, including whether demand for a safe overnight parking program exists in South County and whether there are locations that would better fit the needs of potential clients and have less of an impact on a neighborhood.David Murray, senior warden of the vestry, said two factors led to the decision. The current program 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. They have since been asked to leave.

Also, Murray said, the sole caseworker responsible for selecting applicants would no longer be able to do so because of workload constraints. “Where this goes from here, I really couldn’t say,” Murray said. “We have committed to work with (Arroyo Grande) city staff, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition and other churches to evaluate what has happened to date. We’ve learned a lot from it.”

In March, the Arroyo Grande City Council approved a permit for a six-month program at the church at 301 Trinity Ave.

The church was allowed to have three vehicles stay overnight in its parking lot with the option of increasing to five after three months. But because of low interest, church members decided not to request any additional spots.

Since the program started six months ago, Arroyo Grande police reviewed nine applications for the program and conducted a limited background check of all the people who would be sleeping in their vehicles, police Cmdr. Beau Pryor said.

Six of the nine applications met the criteria and were approved, but only three applicants registered for the program, Pryor said. He didn’t know why the others didn’t complete the registration.

The program concerned neighbors in the small community, who formed a neighborhood watch group after it was approved.

Over the past six months, police received nine calls for service related to the church and its parking program, he said. Most of the issues involved concerns over vehicles parked either near the end of the dead-end street leading up to the church or in the church parking lot.

Police logged one clear violation by participants in the parking program Aug. 23 because they had remained on the premises after 7 a.m., Pryor said.