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Venice Council Looks to Others for Safe-Parking Model:

The issue of overnight parking for lived-in vehicles has sparked both arguments and suggested solutions. At the March 16 meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC), one such solution was described.

David Ewing and Stewart Oscars recently took a field trip to Santa Barbara with Los Angeles City Council rep Bill Rosendahl, members of his staff and two police officers who work in Venice. The objective was to examine Santa Barbara’s plan for safe parking.

As Ewing described it, the Safe Parking Program is not run directly by the city of Santa Barbara but by a nonprofit organization called New Beginnings. A survey showed them that of the 350 people who qualify as “vehicular homeless,” half of them were already working, some at city jobs. These were people who were homeless because of the high price of renting or owning a place to live.

Nevertheless, Ewing continued, the Safe Parking Program came about as the result of “a very acrimonious battle.” As with other cities, Santa Barbara has a law against sleeping overnight in a parked vehicle. The town was covered with “No Camper Parking” signs. An attempt was made to ban all camper-type vehicles within city limits. Homeless campers took the issue to court. “The program was part of what came out of the negotiations,” said Ewing.

New Beginnings created a series of lots where RVs, campers and other large vehicles that are lived in can be parked overnight. There are currently 105 spaces available. This means that not all of Santa Barbara’s vehicular homeless can be accommodated. The organization is looking for more lots. The lots they use have been donated by churches, private groups, nonprofits, businesses, and the City.

Lots are screened off so that housed residents don’t see the vehicles. New Beginnings has given vehicular residents a set of 14 rules that they must abide by (after more than one infraction they’re out). Vehicles must be registered and insured and for those who have trouble affording that, New Beginnings helps them.

The program’s cost, said Oscars, is $125,000 a year, about half of which is funded by the City of Santa Barbara. The rest comes from Federal funds and private donations.

New Beginnings makes social services available to the vehicle residents “but does not force them,” said Ewing. The goal is to help the homeless eventually find permanent places to live.

VNC Board members and audience members alike were impressed with Ewing and Oscars’ account of the Santa Barbara program. VNC President Mike Newhouse said that the VNC has previously endorsed a similar idea for solving the overnight parking issue in Venice.

“Rosendahl wanted to start a program like this,” said Ewing. He noted that so far, there has been resistance from the City of Los Angeles but this fact-finding trip may change things because “This is a program that is actually working.”

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