Nearly three years after opening a public parking lot on Geng Road to unhoused individuals, Palo Alto is now preparing to extend its partnership with Santa Clara County to keep the city’s largest "safe parking" program near the Baylands.
The City Council is scheduled to approve a new three-year lease with Santa Clara County tonight (Sept. 18), to retain the program, which is operated by the nonprofit MOVE Mountain View. In addition to providing RV dwellers a safe place to park, the program offers case management and assistance with finding permanent homes.
The Geng Road program, which made its debut in early 2021, was the city’s first venture into safe parking programs. Since then, various local congregations have applied for similar programs of smaller scale, which typically have a maximum of four spaces for unhoused residents.
The Geng Road program, meanwhile, has 12 parking spaces and is the only one that allows RVs. According to a new report from the Administrative Services Department, the Geng Road program has served about 25 households comprising 84 individuals since it made its debut. It also expanded its offerings in September 2022, when it held a ceremony to unveil its new children’s library, a closet with donated clothes, laundry machines and a locker room with showers.
The City Council has strongly supported the establishment of safe parking programs, seeing them as a critical intermediary step for unhoused individuals looking for permanent homes. In 2019, former council member Tom DuBois and council member Lydia Kou authored a memo calling for the establishment of such programs and arguing that the city needs to address homelessness "from a health and safety standpoint."
In the memo, the two council members cited the substantial increase of residents who live in vehicles which can be seen parked on main thoroughfares and quiet streets for long periods of time.
"The effort must be made to find immediate short and long term solutions," the memo stated. "The ultimate goal is to provide assistance to people to get them back on the path to stable housing."
The city had 276 unhoused individuals who had interacted with service providers in 2022, of whom 29% had reported sleeping in their cars, according to the report. About two thirds reported that they had either worked in Palo Alto, lived there, went to school there or had been spending most of their time there.
According to the county’s census on the matter, the number of people experiencing homelessness appears to have dipped by 25% between 2022 and 2023. In January, the county conducted a point-in-time count of homeless individuals in which it counted 206 people experiencing homelessness, which includes 181 who were sleeping in their vehicles. The report notes that 68% of these vehicles were RVs.
"This indicates an ongoing need for safe parking sites in Palo Alto," the Administrative Services Department report states. "Additionally, the Geng Road site could be considered critical given that it is the only safe parking in Palo Alto which can legally accommodate RVs."
The new three-year agreement will include a clause to make sure that Palo Alto residents who sleep in vehicles get first consideration at safe parking. It will also clarify that the city is responsible for maintaining the landscaping near the sidewalk, outside the fence line.