Los Angeles programs that aid people using their vehicles as shelter are receiving more recognition and support from local government. The positive changes will likely encourage development of similar programs and the addition of more safe parking sites in Los Angeles County.
According to the 2018 point-in-time count, over 15,700 people took shelter in 9,100 vehicles in LA County every night. People who use vehicles as shelter represent over 25 percent of the county’s homeless population.
The first program, Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s Community Assistance Parking Program (CAPP), allows people without permanent residence to perform community or support service in lieu of paying a parking ticket. CAPP is a pilot program that the Los Angeles City Council approved in February 2017. To participate, ticketed individuals must be without permanent shelter and have received the parking ticket from the City.
Mark Granado, division manager for LA DOT, said the program received no additional funding, but has staff dedicated to manage it. Results have been positive, with participants working off 1,750 citations as of March 2019.
“In March 2018, we gave a one-year status report to the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Participants in the program gave testimony about how the program changed their lives. The report’s positive reception was a green light for the program to continue,” said Granado.
CAPP Allows Participants to Work Off Parking Tickets
Teresa Mayer, a management assistant for LA DOT, who does community outreach for CAPP, said staff created a list of 35 identified service providers in Los Angeles County where program participants can do kitchen work, garden work, and administrative work to pay off their tickets. The program limits a participant to arranging two agreements to pay off parking tickets in one year. The maximum amount that can be worked off is $1,500. Participants have three months to complete their hours. In the meantime, their citation/s are suspended and financial penalties do not accrue.
“The most frequently cited infraction is parking during street cleaning. The ties for the second most frequent are expired tag or no registration,” said Mayer.
Individuals who receive five or more tickets can be booted. CAPP reduces the potential for participants to lose mobility due to a boot or tow. The program does not screen for criminal history, but participants must agree to be registered in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).
CAPP participants are also eligible to get help from social service providers. They connect individuals with chances for employment, reduced-cost or free sources of food, and spots for permanent housing.
Granado said LA DOT is currently refining its procedures to smooth the registration process. It is also working to improve the retention of program participants.
“We want to be able to accept more people. We also want to be a model for other cities. A Los Angeles LGBT Center manager with the Homeless Youth Project reached out to us and asked how the program could be expanded to other cities, like West Hollywood. He asked us, ‘How did you do this?’ We told him that we built CAPP from the ground up,” said Granado.
Safe Parking LA
LAHSA oversees the safe parking strategies for the city and county, and provides funding for some programs. Safe Parking LA is a program that receives some funding from LAHSA. Safe Parking LA is a nonprofit-run program that allows participants to park in security-protected lots with access to bathrooms and social service providers.
As of April 2019, Safe Parking LA had 70 participants in six lots throughout Los Angeles County.
Pat Cohen, one of the founders of Safe Parking LA, said there are between 8 to 25 participants at each lot. There is an average of about 10 people per lot.
“We rent the spaces on the lots. We also pay guards $20 an hour to guard the lot for 10 hours a night, seven days a week. There may also be a cost for bathrooms. There’s no limit on how long a participant can stay. Social service providers work with participants to help them get permanent housing,” said Cohen.
All participants in Safe Parking LA must register in the HMIS. After a short period, Safe Parking LA also requests that a participant complete a coordinated entry system (CES) form. LAHSA utilizes HMIS with its providers.This helps the program do case management for participants.
Safe Parking LA has strict rules: no guns, no knives, and no drugs, including alcohol. Pets are OK. Participants must have a current driver’s license. They must also obtain state-required liability vehicle insurance for the vehicle on the lot and registration. Safe Parking LA will assist an individual who does not have insurance and registration in applying for these items.
Safe Parking Offers ‘Base of Stability’
Scott Sale, another of the founders of Safe Parking LA, currently serves as its executive director. Sale said the program started out as an independent organization. The program is now under the fiscal umbrella sponsorship of a larger nonprofit, Community Partners. The arrangement allows Safe Parking LA to receive charitable funds. Community Partners also assists Safe Parking LA with development and operations.
“The bulk of our funding had come from the City and County via resolutions and support in individual council and (County) Supervisor offices. Our veteran’s safe parking program was 100 percent funded by private monies,” said Sale.
Sale said Safe Parking LA offers participants a “base of stability.”
“Rather than have to be uncertain of where they’re going to sleep at night, they can sleep in a Safe Parking LA lot safely. They don’t have to fear getting bothered, harassed, or ticketed,” said Sale.
“In addition, the program offers an easier way for them to get connected to case managers via the CES system,” Sale continued.
Sale said Safe Parking LA is working on hiring more people to provide social services in the evenings. This will enable it to offer more intensive case management services at night.
Otha Cole, program manager at Community Partners, said Safe Parking LA’s program “posed more risk than other projects we sponsor, but we found it very worthy. Our insurers agreed.”
How Safe Parking LA Works
“Safe Parking LA requires a variety of different contracts and permits to open the lots. As their fiscal sponsor, we help them sort through that. We started working with Safe Parking LA in January 2019. We’re in the middle of establishing a protocol for new lots,” said Cole.
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) is an independent authority that coordinates and manages over $300 million annually from federal, state, city, and county funds to provide shelter and housing.
Becky Gross, project manager for quality and special projects at LAHSA, said LAHSA began administering funding from the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County in August 2018. LAHSA currently funds nine safe parking programs.
Depending on the proposals received during the current RFP, LAHSA aims to fund several more safe parking lots.
“Some lots have physical restrooms open to participants. When they don’t, we provide Port-o-Potties as restrooms,” said Gross.
Gross said working with safe parking programs has been going well.
“We are continuing to revise our model and program design. It’s been a learning process,” said Gross.
Gross said LAHSA found participants may need to switch lots as their place of work or center for care changed.
“We try to create a network among our safe parking programs and be as accommodating as possible to our participants,” said Gross.
Programs Need Political and Community Support
The support of local politicians is critical to the continuation of programs like CAPP, Safe Parking LA, and safe parking programs organized by Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care Systems and North Valley Caring Services (NVCS).
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl is supervisor for the Third District, which encompasses 431-square miles stretching from the ocean to Los Feliz, and from Venice up to San Fernando. Kuehl is heartened by the successes of these programs and others that offer parking amnesty.
“People are not really safe in their cars. They feel vulnerable and unsafe in their cars. By providing safe parking areas, we can not only offer people a secure place to sleep. We create a centralized location where people can begin to receive the kind of support that can help them find permanent housing. We’ve started small, but we expect this program (Safe Parking LA) to grow by making more and more county-owned lots available,” said Kuehl.
Kuehl said NVCS operates an “excellent” safe parking program.
“Safe Parking LA has expanded to open an additional lot in West LA and is exploring a fourth lot in our district in Reseda,” said Kuehl.
Kuehl said programs like Safe Parking LA also help build relationships between people without permanent shelter and county residents with housing.
“Most county residents are supportive of helping people who are experiencing homelessness. Safe Parking builds an open and trusting relationship with neighbors. (Then they can) understand how the parking lots are run and residents are reassured that their concerns are addressed,” said Kuehl.
Kuehl added safe parking is a temporary solution.
“Our goal is for the program to be a jumping off point to better things. LAHSA recently released a Request For Proposal (a document soliciting proposal for services, through a bidding process) that will provide some programs with richer supportive services. (This will help us) learn if a greater investment in services will result in more program participants obtaining permanent housing,” said Kuehl.
Editor’s notes: LAHSA recently released an RFP for safe parking programs. Organizations that want to run safe parking programs can apply for funding through this RFP. Conrad is a homeless veteran sleeping in his car at Safe Parking LA; watch his story here.