Safe Parking programs are a safe and legal homelessness intervention for people who are living in their vehicles to stabilize and connect to resources. While parking sites may take on unique characteristics, most sanctioned locations include access to a restroom facility and the security of a guard.
Safe parking has been more and more common in recent years with increasing homelessness and especially connected to the recent California wildfires which displaced thousands who lost everything except their cars and RVs.
An article on Bloomberg’s CityLab reports that although America has an estimated 2 billion parking spots for the country’s 250 million cars, the space is contested and highly policed. Drivers living in their cars are often urged to “keep driving” or “move along” and access to sanctioned RV parks and parking spots are rare.
One well-known relief to this problem has been Walmart. There are plenty of Walmart stores that DO allow overnight RV parking, and you can find a state-by-state directory of those locations here. Make sure you understand the etiquette of seeking out such a spot. DISCLAIMER/WARNING: While free overnight stays at Walmart may seem attractive, always check with the store to see if they allow camping. In some cities/states it is illegal.
Founded in 2016, Safe Parking LA is a coordinating organization which assists homeless families and individuals living in their vehicles. With their slogan “Nobody Plans to Be Homeless,“ the nonprofit supports the implementation of “Safe Parking Lots”, which provide individuals a safe place to park each night, restroom access, a security guard, and social service resources. They report that in Los Angeles County, there are over 15,700 people living in their vehicles each night. These vehicle dwellers represent over 25% of the population of people experiencing homelessness in LA County.
In Santa Barbara, New Beginnings started their safe parking program in 2004. By partnering with the City of Santa Barbara, local churches, and non-profit organizations, New Beginnings is able to provide 133 safe parking spots to individuals each night. Like New Beginnings, Safe Parking LA provides confidential, daily-monitored parking places for those who are living in their vehicles with current proof of a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance.
In March of 2018 Safe Parking LA opened its first Safe Parking lot in Koreatown. A second safe parking location for veterans was opened in April of 2018 at the Department of Veteran Affairs Campus in West Los Angeles. In 2019 they reported that a total of nine sites will have opened with locations in Hollywood, North Hollywood, Reseda, Echo Park, and additional West LA sites. These nine sites provide safety for up to 190 vehicles and approximately 220 persons every night. Other social service providers in the City of Los Angeles, are operating Safe Parking programs in Council District 7, Council District 1, and Council District 9. By the end of 2019, they estimate there will be enough safe parking in the County for 450 vehicles.
According to Vox, in 2019 California had about a quarter of the country’s homeless population, with almost 130,000 people experiencing homelessness, according to estimates from one night in January (known as a “point in time” count) from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Washington state has just over 22,000 people experiencing homelessness, and Oregon has almost 14,500. Nearly half of all unsheltered people are in California, according to HUD statistics from 2018. Another estimate says that in Los Angeles County alone, there are some 16,500 people living in vehicles. (Note that New York State has about 92,000 people experiencing homelessness, which is 17 percent of the national total).
Another organization involved in safe parking started in Monterey County, California in 2012 called One Starfish Safe Parking, named after the famous starfish story by Loren Eisley. When Dr. Tia Fechter and her husband, Michael first moved to Monterey County January 1, 2012, they began feeding and helping the homeless as private citizens. Simply because they saw the need.
In serving meals and bringing supplies to those in need, they soon discovered an almost invisible population of homeless people….homeless women living in their cars. These women generally went to great lengths to appear “not homeless” but lived in great stress and uncertainty as it was and is often illegal to sleep in your car at night.
Police, often reluctantly, had to tell these ladies to move on or be ticketed. If unable to pay the fines these women soon found their cars impounded and they suddenly had no shelter at night. Many of these women were recently homeless with no skills to survive on the street.
After attending many city council, mayoral and other meetings throughout Monterey County, Tia, a PhD in psychometrics, decided to finance the beginnings of One Starfish Safe Parking and Supportive Services from her own pocket.
Getting the program up and running soon led to support from several groups prominently, We Help Homeless Women (Sara Myers) and The Fund for Homeless Women (Pastor Michael Reid, Kathy Whilden, and Marian Penn) that also saw the pressing need to see more aide come to those forced to live in their last remaining major possession, their cars.
Homes 4 the Homeless is supportive of organizations seeking to create safe parking, with an added phase of providing temporary, transitional housing and case management so these people have a path to recovery or permanent housing situations.