San Luis Obispo's safe parking program for homeless extended

A temporary program launched in San Luis Obispo in June to provide people living in their cars with a safe place to park overnight will continue.

The San Luis Obispo City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to pursue making the program a permanent part of the services offered to assist homeless people living in the city.

The majority of the council members also said they would support expanding the program by finding additional areas to offer parking throughout the city, such as church parking lots or willing businesses.

“We are the happiest city and have drawn a lot of homeless to the community, and we are now dealing with the issues that come with that,” said Councilwoman Kathy Smith. “I’d like to see this move forward as quickly as possible.”

The existing program provides five parking spaces for homeless people living in their vehicles at the Prado Day Center. The parking lot is behind a locked gate, monitored by video surveillance. A portable toilet on the grounds is available for those staying there.

The effort is the first of its kind in San Luis Obispo, but such programs have long been used in other communities such as Santa Barbara to help reduce 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 pilot parking program in late March. The program has cost $7,500 in operational costs since it was approved.

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.

Despite being supportive of expanding the program, Councilman Dan Carpenter said the council did not “adequately address” the portion of the homeless population resistant to services.

Of the estimated 1,592 homeless people in San Luis Obispo, 40 percent of people have been identified as people not seeking to transition to permanent housing by using existing services, according to social services providers.

San Luis Obispo police Capt. Chris Staley said there has been an increase in the number of people living on the streets referred to as the “will-nots,” who will not seek services.

“We spend a great deal of our time dealing with the people who are resistant to programs and have demonstrated they don’t have any intentions of changing their lifestyles,” Staley said.

It is that group of people that Carpenter said he feels the city needs to do more to address.

“If the plan is to push them out of town, then let’s just say that,” Carpenter said.