It can be upsetting to see cars and RVs on the side of the road that serve as homes to our community members. Many of us have even wondered — what can I, or anyone, do to help these residents of our community, many of whom are vulnerable families and seniors.
Homelessness is not a problem that appeared overnight; it is an issue that has grown in our high-priced area. Though difficult, some options are available to meet the needs of unhoused community members and are not out of reach. One is quite simple — safe parking. Safe parking allows individuals or families that live in their cars and RVs to park their vehicles in designated areas that are supervised, have access to amenities and services, and allow for continuous, uninterrupted stays. While not a long-term solution, safe parking allows residents to have stability in where they sleep each night while they seek permanent housing.
But, like so many good things in the world, no one group can provide safe parking alone. In this case, Santa Clara County, local cities, local chambers of commerce, faith communities, and nonprofit agencies are working together to provide safe parking. The county and local cities have piloted safe parking efforts and can now offer a complete package to run safe parking programs — including on-site case management, liability coverage, and a trusted operator to handle the day-to-day issues. But we need more parking lots — in fact, we need many more parking lots.
The Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos (CSA) is currently providing case management to community members living in their vehicles. Without safe parking, residents living in their cars and RVs are weighed down by significant obstacles that encumber their daily lives. They have to seek a new spot for their vehicles on a regular basis, address costly repairs, and worry about the security of their families and their belongings — all while trying to locate permanent housing. Safe parking lots allow residents to address some of these issues and reinvest their time into their own lives, including their efforts to seek permanent housing. Many of the residents living in their vehicles are active members of the communities they reside in who have fallen on hard times. The situations vary — loss of jobs, health problems, or housing displacement — but they remain community members who work in our businesses, go to our schools, and need a safe place to sleep.
There has already been success with safe parking efforts around the county. Safe parking has served dozens of families and individuals, including several who have moved to permanent housing.
The Palo Alto and Mountain View chambers of commerce have co-sponsored an effort spearheaded by county Supervisor Joe Simitian to find those parking lots. The county, the cities, and their nonprofit partners will bring turn-key safe parking to lot owners who are happy to host community members on their lots overnight or, where possible, continuously.
If everyone can come together to find more parking lots, this success can be multiplied in Palo Alto and Mountain View. If you or someone you know owns property with an unused lot and is willing to work with the county to solve our shelter crisis, then please attend an info session in Palo Alto at All Saints Episcopal Church (555 Waverley St.) on Wednesday, March 11, from 11 a.m. to noon or 6 to 7 p.m., or in Mountain View at the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce (580 Castro St.) on Wednesday, March 11, from 10 to 11 a.m. or 6 to 7 p.m. Register for the Palo Alto event at tinyurl.com/paloaltosafeparking or the Mountain View session at tinyurl.com/mvsafeparking.
Tom Myers is the executive director of the Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos, and Charlie Weidanz is CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.