County to open safe parking site near jail



San Luis Obispo County unveiled a new safe parking site for unhoused residents at an Aug. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting—but its "barren" location in an unshaded dirt lot near the SLO County Jail is drawing backlash.

"This plan will fail. The unhoused won't go. It will be a waste of money," said Paul Hershfield, a Los Osos resident who's assisting unhoused residents currently parked on Palisades Avenue by the library and community center.

The proposed site is a piece of county-owned land at the corner of Kansas and Oklahoma avenues, off Highway 1. Officials scrambled in recent weeks to find a suitable and readymade location for a safe parking program as pressure mounted to address a growing unhoused population living on local streets, particularly in Los Osos and Oceano.

"We can do better than Kansas Avenue, but we need to start some place," 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said at the meeting. "The matter of establishing these programs was not a matter of hiding the unsheltered in our community. It was a piece of county property that could be developed efficiently and in the timely manner to meet a need."

County officials said the site could be open for business as soon as Friday, Aug. 13. It will have showers, restrooms, a handwashing station, and dumpsters for residents. The site will only be open to people with "working vehicles" and not those living in tents. Interested users must arrive during the daily check-in hours of 5 to 9 p.m. and sign a code of conduct "focused on safety and respect for neighbors."

The county claims that establishing the site will allow it to enforce overnight parking and camping ordinances against those who have been parked on public streets, since there is now an alternative location to go.

But unhoused residents and their advocates said that forcing people to park in an unshaded lot miles away from town centers and services is inhumane.

"My home is Los Osos," said Benjamin Kincaid, a resident of Palisades Avenue. "It's not fair to ship us off into the middle of nowhere. No one lives on Kansas Avenue, and there's a reason why."

In choosing the site, SLO County supervisors rejected a proposal put forth by Los Osos community members to repurpose the El Chorro Regional Park campground as a sanctioned homeless encampment. That idea drew both community support and skepticism, but the county's alternative took heat from all sides on Aug. 10.

"I think Kansas Avenue falls very short," said Pat West, a Los Osos resident who helped formulate the El Chorro proposal. "Why just safe parking and not a community encampment? Why not a place that has trees and running water and lots of toilets and lots of showers ... than this piece of dirt? Why only for those who have working vehicles?"

The county says it will operate the new safe parking site as a three-month pilot program before reevaluating it. Officials said they are coordinating with CAPSLO and the 5Cities Homeless Coalition to provide outreach services and case management at the site.

Gibson framed the project as a "baby step" toward bigger solutions on homelessness. On Aug. 10, the board also approved a $1.5 million budget adjustment, which is intended to fund: three safe parking programs (including Kansas Avenue), a "blue bag" program for waste services at encampments, a 10-bed expansion of the county's 70Now housing program, new staff members, encampment abatement, a communications strategy on homelessness, and work to develop a computer mapping tool for encampments.

"We have just started on this," Gibson said. "The reality is we need to do more." Δ


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