Sat, Mar 29 2014 12:00 PM Posted By: Robert Moreno
Homeless people living in their car don’t have to worry about being harassed by the police or sleep in fear for their safety with the Safe Parking program.
The program, created by the Dreams of Change organization and Turning the Hearts Center, is designed to not only provide a safe place for homeless people living in their car to park safely overnight, but to help those individuals by providing resources to help them move from their vehicle to permanent housing.
“Our only requirement really is that participants have to show a willingness to work toward getting out of their vehicle,” said Teresa Smith, founder and CEO of Dreams of Change.
Smith said caseworkers are usually on site to help people with their job search and with other needs.
The program originated four years ago when the first Safe Parking program started in San Diego, with the Chula Vista location at 345 Fifth Ave, beginning its operations nearly two years ago.
Smith said the Safe Parking program in Chula Vista came about because Turning the Hearts Center’s location had the 60 parking spaces needed for the program.
She said while Chula Vista is a good location to have this program, more cities could use use a safe parking program.
“Every neighborhood is an ideal location for us,” she said. “We have seen a need across the county.”
Since its existence, a combined 4,000 vehicles have gone through the program in both locations, Smith said.
In Chula Vista, 191 vehicles have checked in, but that number continues to grow as the homeless population in Chula Vista continues to boom.
“The last few months it has increased,” Smith said.
Smith said when the Chula Vista lot first opened it averaged about 10 to 15 vehicles a night.
This past fall, she said, that number has increased to about 30 vehicles a night.
Smith said 70 percent of families or individuals who use the program have some sort of income, either they work part-time or are under-employed or receive disability income, Smith said.
Forty percent of those in the program have some type medical issue causing a loss of income and making them unable to work due to medical issues or an accident, Smith said.
“Medical and unemployment are the biggest cases we see for sure,” she said about the people in the program.
Because often times children are in the program with their families, Smith said registered sex offenders and individuals with felonies or crimes against children are not admitted into the program. She said everyone in the lot gets a background check.
Smith said most vehicles are welcomed except for campers and RVs.
The Chula Vista location operates seven nights a week, 365 days a year.
© 2009 The Star-News