Councilmember’s field office will offer safe parking for homeless residents

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A parking lot for Councilmember Mike Bonin’s field office at the West LA Civic Center will be turned into a safe parking site for homeless Angelenos living in their cars.

The pilot program was endorsed last night by the West Los Angeles-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, and could be launched within a few weeks. The lot will be operated by Safe Parking LA, a nonprofit which manages similar properties across the region.

“Safe Parking LA provides an orderly and safe place for people living in their vehicles to stay overnight, connecting them to services and housing—instead of creating de facto vehicular encampments in our neighborhoods,” Councilmember Bonin wrote in a Facebook post.

The pilot program, which will provide security as well as services, will launch with a “half-dozen cars, before hopefully growing to accommodate more vehicles after the program is up and running,” according to a spokesperson for Bonin.

According to the city’s last homelessness count, almost 9,000 Angelenos live in cars or RVs.

Based on a successful program in Santa Barbara, the safe parking program was first approved by the city in 2015, but so far only a handful of lots have come online in Los Angeles. This includes lots in Hollywood, Koreatown, and South LA, according to Emily Uyeda Kantrim, Safe Parking LA’s program coordinator.

Although a story on LAist noted that the program had expected more support from churches, Kantrim says faith-based groups are only one part of the nonprofit’s outreach strategy. “We’ve had an across-the-board response from the city, from the county, from private lot owners, from businesses,” she says. “I have had people say, ‘I don’t use my driveway, can someone park here?’”

The issue is not necessarily one of space—14 percent of LA County’s land is devoted to parking—but the various regulatory hurdles. Even after a site is agreed upon, the program requires funding, and approvals from LA’s Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) as well as several other city departments. This can take months, she says, although the city is working to streamline the process.

However, starting with city-owned lots does lower barriers to implementation, says Kantrim, and Safe Parking LA is talking with several other council districts about similar plans. “When your constituent comes to you and says, ‘I’m in my vehicle, where do I go?’ we need to find space.”

In a Los Angeles Daily News story, women and families living in vehicles praised the safe parking lots as peaceful places of refuge after being harassed while parked on the street. LA also recently began enforcing stricter policies about sleeping in vehicles.

Bonin’s model to offer up his own parking lot could be used in other districts to help confront local opposition to homeless housing. After a temporary homeless shelter proposed for Koreatown was faced with fierce protests, Councilmember Herb Wesson worked with the community to locate new sites, including one he proposed which was adjacent to his own office.

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