Amid a worsening homelessness crisis, the city of San Luis Obispo is launching a new "safe parking program" in the coming weeks that will give local families and individuals a place to legally park and sleep overnight in their vehicles.
Slated to open at Railroad Square—in a city-owned parking lot next to the SLO Railroad Museum, bordering the train tracks—the 20-space lot aims to replace a county-led parking program at the SLO Vets' Hall that was discontinued last summer.
- File Photo By Kasey Bubnash
- SAFE PARKING SLO city hopes a new safe parking program can replace a previous one at the SLO Vets' Hall (picutred) that was discontinued by the county last summer.
SLO city has entered a one-year, $65,420 contract with the Community Action Partnership of SLO County (CAPSLO) to help run the program, which is expected to launch in "the next couple of weeks."
"I think that the county programs were really kind of like an emergency option when COVID hit," said Grace McIntosh, deputy director at CAPSLO, "because a lot of parkers lost their access to showers and services. I don't believe there was ever an intention to make that permanent. But everyone knows there's a permanent need for it. I'm glad we can just do something."
City officials said they ramped up their efforts to establish a site in recent months as homelessness has only grown in SLO over the pandemic. CAPSLO already has seven safe parking spaces available at its 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, but those fill up on most nights, McIntosh said.
"In general, things have gotten worse ... in terms of the length of the pandemic and the number of people who are finding themselves unhoused," said Michael Codron, SLO's community devleopment director. "Folks in RVs will park on the side of the street. There are a variety of challenges with that. ... What this facility would provide, on a temporary basis, is the ability to accommodate more safe parking for our community."
SLO County residents will be given first priority for the 20 parking spaces, McIntosh said, with CAPSLO staff on site each evening to check in users and allocate permits. The lot will be open from around 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. and there'll be a maximum per-vehicle stay of 28 consecutive days. Shower services will not be available on site immediately, but McIntosh said she hopes they can be added soon.
While safe parking users are not required to participate in CAPSLO's case management services, they are encouraged to visit the 40 Prado center during the day to work toward a housing solution.
"The hope is that we will be able to work with individuals to develop a more permanent housing plan," McIntosh said.
Codron said that the city has installed secuirity cameras at the parking lot to monitor public safety and that there will be police patrols in the area during the night. According to prior New Times reporting, last year's program at the Vets' Hall did not cause public safety problems.
As McIntosh looks ahead, she sees an even bigger surge in homelessness coming with a looming end to eviction protections. It's why she's glad the new safe parking program is planned for at least one year.
"Because what we're seeing and we're trying to anticipate when the eviction moratorium ends, our fear is were going to see a lot more people homeless," McIntosh said. "There's not enough funding and there's not enough housing to accommodate what we think is going to be the need." Δ