A San Luis Obispo church has agreed to host the city’s overnight parking program for homeless people — but it could be months before the site gets up and running.
SLO Naz Church is offering its parking lot at 3396 Johnson Ave. as a site for SLO’s new rotational safe parking program.
However, the location won’t be open to unhoused community residents until more locations have agreed to host the program, community development director Timmothea Tway told The Tribune.
“We’re absolutely encouraging the faith-based communities or whoever wants to host a site to be proactive and discuss things with their communities,” Tway said, “so that when it gets to the point of an application, the community hopefully already knows about it and understands the program.”
The city has been searching for a replacement for its Railroad Square Safe Parking program, which finished operations at the end of August.
In August, SLO halted plans to use a 200-foot stretch of Palm Street as an interim home for the program after neighbors complained .
The city and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, which would manage the safe parking program, officially withdrew their application in early September ahead of a San Luis Obispo Planning Commission meeting.
Neighbors of SLO Naz Church have already started weighing in on the church’s suitability as a safe parking site.
Terri Wright, the church’s pastor of community care, said those neighbors approach the subject “with an open mind and an open heart.”
“We’re just hoping to do an outreach to explain where our hearts are at, and how we want to help the community,” Wright said. “We hope that (our neighbors) will fall in line with our expectations as far as just giving a hand out and a hand up.”
SLO safe parking program adds case management
Similar to the Railroad Square program, the rotating safe parking program will unhoused residents living in their vehicles a place to stay between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., but alternate between volunteer faith-based organizations’ properties and public land each month instead of using one location.
Wright said hosting the safe parking program falls in line with SLO Naz Church’s history of charitable work and mission outreach.
“Part of our motto is ‘across the street and around the corner,’ ” Wright said. “This is across the street.”
As site host, SLO Naz Church only needs to provide the program with a location, and CAPSLO will handle the rest as site administrator, Wright said.
Part of CAPSLO’s responsibilities include a new intake and onboarding strategy for the city’s rotational parking program, which will make use of the nonoprofit’s existing safe parking program at 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, CAPSLO director of homeless services Jack Lahey said.
Folks who wish to use the city’s safe parking program will have to first stay 30 days at CAPSLO’s parking site without incident, Lahey said.
During that time, participants will need to pass a criminal background check for sex offender status be and assigned a housing navigator, along with making sure their vehicle is propertly titled and licensed, Lahey said.
Once that 30-day stay is complete, the participant can graduate out to a city parking location, which will ensure program participants will be moving toward permanent housing, he said.
In both the 40 Prado site and rotating locations, residents will have a spot reserved for a 90-day period, but will be granted 30-day extensions if they are working with a case manager and have not found housing, Lahey said.
“The only folks who would be referred to the rotating model would be people who have no incidents here Prado, have followed all the site rules and have a confirmed, realistic housing plan,” Lahey said.
The program will also enforce a good neighbor policy that requires all participants to move their vehicles at least half a mile from the parking site during daytime hours, Lahey said.
Stays at the rotating site have also been adjusted since the city’s attempt to use Palm Street as an interim site, shrinking from 20 vehicles to 12 in a move that will keep the rotating sites consistent in size and scope of work for case managers, Lahey said.
“The Palm Street process,made us step back and say, ‘We don’t have to replicate every little component possible,’” Lahey said. “To make this work, we need to make sure that this program takes the good pieces (from Railroad Square), and is able to be molded into something that will be successful.”
With CAPSLO’s new vetting and case management provisions, Wright said she hopes nearby residents will be more receptive to having a parking site near their homes.
“CAPSLO can get a feel of the person’s intent: Are they just parking there, or do they really want help and services?” Wright said. “(Clients) will graduate from Prado and come over to whoever is hosting. ... Those are the ones that actually need our help, because where else can they go?”
Neighbors express concern over proposed? new location
Linda Dikeman, who lives near SLO Naz Church in San Luis Obispo, said she was concerned a safe parking site was being considered near her home.
Dikeman said she doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of people staying overnight in their vehicles in her neighborhood.
“It’s going to cause disruption, it’s going to cause noise and it’s going to cause trash,” Dikeman said. “Even if everyone’s trying to be respectful, there’s going to be an impact from this on the surrounding neighborhood.”
Even with increased vetting, Dikeman said, the parking site could attract other homeless individuals who haven’t signed up for the safe parking program.
Plus, she said, program participants could take to waiting at or around the SLO Naz Church parking lot outside of the program’s operating hours.
The area near SLO Naz Church is a high-traffic area for pedestrians in the morning and evening, which Dikeman said raises safety concerns.
Most neighbors support the ideas behind the rotational safe parking program, but don’t support its location, Dikeman said.
“Anything in a residential neighborhood does not make sense — perhaps in a commercial area, where people are there during the day, but it’s empty at night,” Dikeman said. “Here, we’re the opposite — we’re gone in the day, but we’re all home at night.”
City still ‘a few months’ from launching program
Tway said the city’s safe parking program will remain on hold until multiple parking sites have agreed to host the program.
San Luis Obispo public communications manager Whitney Szentesi said several sites have been ruled out for future consideration, including the Palm Street site, Railroad Square, fire and police stations and parking structures.
Along with faith-based organizations, Szentesi said, the city is considering city-owned properties such as parks and city facilities — as long as there is a 50-foot barrier between the parking site and residential properties, as well as space for 15 vehicles, a portable restroom, wash station, dumpster and no site conflicts with the program’s hours.
The city and CAPSLO are also open to exploring private locations, Szentesi said.
Because the program is “applicant-driven,” Tway said, the city will wait for CAPSLO to apply for additional parking sites and therefore start the approval process for each individual site.
CAPSLO initially gained a conditional use permit from the San Luis Obispo Planning Comission in July to administer the program. That allows the organization to identify sites and apply for a director’s action permit, Tway said.
That director’s action permit lets CAPSLO work with the site’s owners to establish the boundaries of the site, after which the city reviews the site and notifies neighbors, Tway said.
Finally, Tway makes a “director’s decision” on the site, either approving the location or sending the decision to the Planning Commission for further review.
Prior to submitting its application to host the safe parking site, SLO Naz Church will hold an informational meeting for nearby residents on Sept. 20 — a gesture Tway said is not required but encouraged for all potential site hosts.
Tway said the program still has “a few months” to go before it starts hosting clients, because the city needs more sites to be on board before launching.
“To have a true rotating program, you need more than one site,” Tway said. “Our ideal goal would be that we kick the program off with at least four or five (sites), so that it’s a truly rotating program.”