San Luis Obispo County has announced it will close the Oklahoma Avenue Safe Parking Site in March, sparking backlash from the attorney representing the remaining residents there who says he will file a restraining order to keep it open.
According to the county’s news release, residents were notified Thursday morning that the site would close March 18, ending operations at the location on Highway 1 north of San Luis Obispo after two and a half years.
The site was originally established in the fall of 2021 as a place for people living in vehicles on Palisades Avenue in Los Osos to temporarily park while searching for housing. Instead, the site became a long-term home to many of its residents.
“While there have been victories and success stories among the program’s participants, ultimately the safety concerns and sustainability of the program outweighed the benefits of having the site remain open,” the county said in its statement.
Plans to draw down the parking site were originally announced in February 2023, at which point the parking site stopped admitting new residents and began to focus on exiting the remaining residents.
Relocation efforts ramped up in October, when the county established a Relocation Assistance Program that offered $1,000, help finding a housing solution, family reunification and vehicle aid.
According to email statements to The Tribune from the county, anyone still living at the site who participated in the Relocation Assistance Program will be able to receive the remaining balance of their relocation assistance aid once they leave the site.
“On a case-by-case basis, the county is providing additional assistance with reasonable short-term costs, such as storage fees, towing expenses and moving costs,” the county’s statement said. “If individuals will need to access local shelter services, they are highly encouraged to begin seeking those options early so they can complete the intake processes with those facilities.”
According to the county’s release, 21 people still live at the site and have been encouraged to work with case managers to plan their exits.
According to the county’s statement, the county would remove all facilities and partners from the site on March 19 while offering temporary vehicle storage for 90 days and helping residents tow their vehicles to alternative locations within the county.
“While the Oklahoma Parking Site is closing, the county and its city partners are actively collaborating to establish programs that will help transition those living unsheltered or in their vehicles to a stable and safe housing situation,” the county release said.
Homeless union to protest decision, files restraining order
In a Thursday news release, the California Homeless Union announced it would protest the county’s decision on Tuesday at noon outside the Katcho Achadjian Government Center.
Two weeks ago, the chapter and its lawyer, Anthony Prince, filed a lawsuit against San Luis Obispo County and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo for allegedly violating the residents’ First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by taking punitive action against residents who joined the union.
In its Thursday statement, the union called the announcement of a hard closure date a form of retaliation for the recent lawsuit.
“Today, in retaliation, the county announced that the site will be permanently closed on March 18,” the union said in a statement. “Accordingly, the Union will now seek an immediate temporary restraining order from Hon. Andre Birotte Jr., the District Court judge assigned to the case.”
Prince said the union was already in the process of filing a temporary restraining order due to the imminent closure date, which he said would violate his clients’ civil rights and cause barriers to engaging in the civil justice process.
The union said it had “no intention of backing down” in its statement, calling CAPSLO the county’s “loyal servant” in running members off of the site.
According to an email to the county’s legal counsel shared with The Tribune, Prince instructed the county and CAPSLO not to interact with site residents, and said relocation assistance agreements previously signed by residents should not be considered legally binding.
“The residents have all been advised to immediately report any attempt by the county and/or CAPSLO to this office,” Prince told the county counsel in his email. “Individual employees of the County and CAPSLO will be added to the complaint as defendants and sued in both their individual and official capacities, respectively.”
In an email statement, the county said it will need to continue operations at the parking site through the March 18 closure date, and remains committed to working with the residents.
“(Prince) does not have the legal authority to order county or CAPSLO staff to not communicate with his clients,” the county’s statement read. “Under the California Bar’s Rules of Ethics, county counsel may not communicate with his clients since they are represented by an attorney, but these ethics rules only apply to attorneys, not other county or CAPSLO staff.”
Prince said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the union would get its restraining order, hoping to “preserve the status quo” on the site until the actual lawsuit moves forward.
“If the county is allowed to move forward and break up the camp, not only will it harm the remaining residents, but it will also interfere with the underlying civil rights case because potential witnesses are scattered,” Prince told The Tribune. “The harm has already taken place and can’t be undone.”
Vehicular homelessness common in SLO County
According to San Luis Obispo County’s 2022 Point-In-Time Count, vehicular homelessness was the second-most common type of shelter tracked by the 2022 count, second only to the 41% of homeless residents who said they lived in tents and more than the population staying in emergency and transitional shelters.
Around 26% of homeless individuals counted in the county the night of Feb. 22, 2022 — or 370 people — were living in their vehicles, with 13% of homeless residents living in RVs, 9% in vans and an additional 4% in cars.
While a recent wave of camping ordinances have created more restrictions on where parking is allowed, places where people living in their vehicles can stay such as the Oklahoma Avenue Safe Parking site have dwindled.