Help for the Homeless: “Safe Parking” Programs

 

Homelessness is one of the biggest issues facing our city today, including our local Larchmont  and adjacent neighborhoods.  We know our readers are concerned about issues surrounding homelessness, and would like to learn more about how they can help, and how they can support organizations that are helping.  In the first of what we hope will be an ongoing series of articles, Tammy Rosato, president of the La Brea Hancock Homeowners’ Association and also a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council board,  the LAPD Wilshire Community Police Advisory Board, and the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition board, as well one of the recently named “Wonder Women” of City Council District 4, will contribute information about organizations working to eliminate homelessness, and how readers can get involved to help those organizations and our homeless residents.

By Tammy Rosato

Nobody plans to be homeless…

In Los Angeles County, there are more than 15,700 people living in their vehicles each night. These vehicle dwellers represent more than 25% of the population of people experiencing homelessness. City and County parking lots, including churches and synagogues, which open their parking spaces to the homeless for “safe parking” in their vehicles after hours, are often the only place these vulnerable individuals and families can sleep safely while they wait for bridge, supportive, or rapid rehousing (and many wait years for vouchers or placement).

This week, I attended a half day “Safe Parking Workshop” presented by Scott Sale MD, Executive Director of Safe Parking LA, which was hosted by Pat and Ira Cohen, and Rabbi Ken Chasen at Leo Back Temple on Sepulveda Blvd. (near the Getty Center). Panelists included Emily Uyeda Kantrim, from Safe Parking LA; Veronica Lewis, MPA, Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care Service (HOPICS) Los Angeles;  Amy Perkins, MSW, Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti; Laura Rathbone, North Valley Caring Services (NVCS); Cassie Roach, New Beginnings Santa Barbara; Kristine Schwarz, MA, MFT, LPCC, New Beginnings Santa Barbara; and Teresa Smith, PhD,  Dreams for Change, San Diego.

The discussion included an overview of the concept of safe parking, essential components for a safe and successful program, the roles of the faith-based communities and neighborhood advocates, and various models for safe parking program services, resources and funding. After lunch, we also heard an impassioned speech from Reverend Anna Olson of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, who shared the success of the church’s Safe Parking program over the past year in Koreatown.

Here’s what we learned:

What is the definition of “safe parking” and why is it important?
Safe Parking programs are a safe and legal homelessness intervention to stabilize people/families living in their vehicles and connect them to the resources they need.

What are the essential components for a safe and successful program?
All participants go through an interview screening process, and once selected, they will have a designated space to sleep at night without fear of being ticketed or harassed. These sites also provide access to a restroom facility, and include a security guard.

What are the roles of faith-based and neighborhood-based organizations?
They often provide the parking space, while Safe Parking coordinates everything else, including connecting individuals with services. In many cases, people who attend the church also donate meals, clothing, and other essentials. Gas cards are very much appreciated as well. That said, the program operates separately from the church, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

What are the various models for safe parking services, resources, and funding?
Most safe parking programs are funded through a combination of city and county funds, various charities, and private donations. Staff helps with a wide range of tasks, including filling out paperwork to access services (including vouchers), employment training, setting goals with personal action items, creating a budget, resolving tickets through community service, and often assists with conflict resolution to help people reconnect with family & friends.

Also, since most funding is focused on the chronically homeless population, safe parking programs rely heavily on private monies and donations to help prevent people from falling into homelessness, and to help those newly unsheltered with financial assistance, food, clothing, and other essentials.

And what were the main points in Rev. Olson’s speech about the Koreatown program over the last year?
Reverend Olson talked about the importance of doing what we can to help others. Opening their hearts and parking lot at night was a little thing that turned out to be a very big deal. And with the positive success over the past year, she said she has witnessed changing hearts and minds within her own congregation.

How can I help and/or get involved?
For more information on how you might participate, please contact SafeParkingLA.org.

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”… Max Lucado

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