Parking Can Help the Homeless


Parking Can Help the Homeless

My work as a journalist has always strengthened my faith in humanity. There is a lot of negativity, hardship, and devastation in the world, but there are also many kind, decent, and generous people out there, too.


In particular, my work for Parking Today has shown me that there are many of these good and giving individuals in and around the parking industry. I was looking for a parking hero to write about and found the Safe Parking Program (SPP) operated in the city of San Diego by Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS). SPP has four parking lots set up for people who live in their vehicles to stay overnight.


The program offers a parking space, restrooms, on-site security, job training, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and help finding permanent housing. Pets and service dogs are allowed. Children are welcome and have a 9 pm curfew. Not allowed are drugs, alcohol, and visitors who aren’t enrolled in the program.


Additionally, Jewish Family Service of San Diego studied those enrolled in the program between February 2019 and March 2021. Their report, published in 2022, included data on 1,096 SPP client households, oral histories for 128 clients, listening session information with 55 clients, plus four listening sessions with 15 members of the frontline staff. According to the report:


“The broad aim of the research was to understand how the safe parking program fits into a larger strategy of solving homelessness and San Diego. Do safe parking programs offer helpful and effective intervention for helping unhoused people get safely housed and back on their feet? They examined what percentage of SPP clients exited successfully to permanent and temporary housing and what percentage return to parking lots. Are there particular patterns and data associated with positive and negative exits? Are there other ways that SPP might benefit people? Even those who do not have a quick, easy transition to permanent stable housing?”


The study found that 15.3 percent of the SPP clients experienced mental health issues compared to 26 percent of the general public. And 1.7 percent experienced drug addiction compared to 8 percent of the general public. Most became homeless after the loss of a job, a medical crisis, the death of a partner, divorce, domestic violence, or the loss of close family member sch as parent or child. Most already experienced deep economic insecurity, and when they were faced with a negative major life event, their family or community support was not enough to keep them housed.


Additionally: “Much of what was learned runs contrary to common negative stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness. Individuals in the program represent a diverse background with respect to education, work, and life history, as well as age, race, ethnicity, family status, and individual challenges. Most were households of only adults. 20 percent were families with children. 47.6 percent white, 19.6 percent Hispanic, 16.2 percent black, and the rest made up of multi racial, Asian, American Indian or Alaskan native, and native Hawaiian Pacific Islander. Black, American Indian, Alaskan native, and native Hawaiian Pacific Islander San Diegans are represented at disproportionately higher rates compared to their percentages in the general population. This is a pattern seen in general homelessness population statistics in San Diego and across the country.”


There are 43 communities in the United States with safe parking programs and most are on the West Coast. Some are just for families, or veterans, or people who are located in the community.


The time between when homelessness occurs and when housing can be regained is nebulous, but if we define it as a transition, we can approach it with resources and attitudes that are productive. We can’t ignore a transition. We cannot deny it is happening or that some solutions are actually quite simple. A safe place to stay until the crisis is mitigated is a pretty simple solution. That is the window during which we can accommodate it and do whatever possible to make sure it’s just temporary. Being realistic about the process is key. 


It can be difficult to reimagine the use of a parking lot. In my mind, the only poor use of parking is for it to be unused. It can also be difficult to relate to homeless individuals – their experience is an unknown for many of us, and we have ideas about the situation based in ignorance, fear, or judgment. Homelessness and its solutions or remedies are difficult to quantify and define. We can blame the homeless, or the economy, the government, and so many other entities and influences, but the blame gets us nowhere. 


Empty parking lots plus charitable organizations ready and willing to help the homeless is a great equation for addressing homelessness. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s not a perfect world – we just do our best to make it better.

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick, Parking Today Contributor
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