Less than six months after San Luis Obispo County opened secure parking near the county jail for people living in vehicles, the City of SLO and the Community Action Partnership of SLO (CAPSLO) have restarted secure parking from Railroad Square.
They hope that the new iteration of the program will correct its past mistakes. Before CAPSLO opened the upgraded Railroad Square program in late November 2021, the area was a safe and poorly managed parking site, according to Lawren Ramos, CAPSLO’s community program manager. He added that the organization has expanded the management of its 40 Prado secure parking site to officially include the new iteration of the railroad parking area.
First opened in March 2021, the original railroad parking site was not a popular choice for the homeless, but officials said the relaunch was part of a regional effort to rationalize resources for the homeless.
Kelsey Nocket, SLO’s homelessness response manager, mentioned a list of operational lessons the city and CAPSLO have learned, such as including movable barricades to let people know there are rules, l posting these rules in an accessible way for homeless participants to read and communicate in advance. on the purpose of security cameras.
“It had a chilling effect at first because people thought they were being watched. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being watched,” she said. “The intent is actually to keep the participants in the program safe. So if there’s a break-in to one of the vehicles or someone is injured…there’s footage to send back so that we may we do justice to this individual.”
Nocket explained that the area’s three safe parking initiatives — the county-run Kansas Avenue program and the city-run spaces at 40 Prado and Railroad Square — offer varying levels of care.
The 40 Prado site has the highest concentration of supervision. Participants can only park there once they have completed full admission and signed up for case management. It has advantages such as having a bathroom with separate entry points.
The Kansas Avenue program is a middle ground where homeless people don’t have to be registered, but two specialists occasionally show up on site to check on their housing needs.
Thanks to a $65,000 fund from the city, the Railroad Square Safe Parking zone is “light.” Operating every evening from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., there is no case management involved. The space doesn’t have RV hookups, but it does have amenities like portable toilets and a hand-washing station; it does not offer walk-in showers as it is also a commercial car park connected to the train station. Railroad Square is a pilot program which Nocket says is considered temporary, compared to the county-run program which is considered permanent.
“If you’re a little nervous about entering the wards but want a safe place to sleep and have a rolling vehicle, you can be at Railroad Square,” Nocket said. “It’s the minimum…and you’ll leave in the morning.”
The city and CAPSLO have also appointed “site captains,” who are homeless participants working with both organizations to monitor others seeking shelter there. Nocket said this role could enhance dignity and encourage self-reliance.
One of those site captains is George, an RV resident at Railroad Square whose name has been changed because he requested anonymity. George has been seeking refuge there for a few months, and he prefers it to his stay on Kansas Avenue.
“[At Kansas Avenue] there are too many scum and unregistered cars taking up space. Probation always passes by, there are cops who pass all the time. It’s on rocks so not somewhere you want to sit outside all day. But the people here [Railroad Square] I just want somewhere to come and go. Many of us go hang out in parks [during the day]“, said George.
While attendees are grateful for the new space, there have also been a few hiccups. Pam, another homeless person whose name has been changed for anonymity, said new times that it was “rocky” at first.
“There were drug addicts threatening people, leaving their trash everywhere. They’re gone now,” she said.
Pam added that CAPSLO failed to meet some of her needs.
“It pisses me off a bit. They were going to give us ration cards and gas cards. I’ve been asking for a gas card for a while and I haven’t heard anything… for about three weeks,” Pam said. .
Jack Lahey, director of homeless services at CAPSLO, said gas cards are both donated by the public and purchased by the organization, and are typically used in case management services . Site hosts also receive gas cards as compensation, as do participants who achieve personal goals with their case manager.
“They’re used if someone really doesn’t want to work with us. We give out gas cards to build relationships. During the holidays, we gave out the gas cards to everyone,” Lahey said. “But I think some people thought we were giving out gift cards all the time, so there was also a bit of confusion.”
The CAPSLO website states that if people find their car uncomfortable to sleep in, they cannot pitch a tent. They should go to refuge 40 Prado instead. But Lahey said that is currently not possible due to an active outbreak of COVID-19 at the shelter. Until public health officials clear them, which means two consecutive weeks of negative test results for everyone, CAPSLO cannot authorize new intakes.
While the railroad site was set up to curb the spread of the delta variant surge among homeless populations last year, Lahey said new times that it is also the gateway to access more specific services from 40 Prado if the participants so wish.
There are 27 parking spaces between the two parking areas, and he said they never reached capacity. Since the reopening of the Railroad Square program, CAPSLO has successfully secured permanent housing for a Safe Parking participant.
“We usually cover between five and six [participants] on our website here [40 Prado]but if anyone at Railroad really wants to, we encourage them to come to the Prado and start parking safely there,” he said. the comprehensive management work we offer at the Prado.”
The revived parking site underscores CAPSLO’s focus on housing people living in vehicles in the central part of the county. Lahey said his scope extends from Baywood and Morro Bay to Los Osos and SLO, and all places in between.
“A lot of times before we tried to say, ‘We’re going to offer you everything before you get housing. We’re really focusing now on “How can we get you from point A to point B as quickly as possible?” A to B as in, from homelessness to housing,” he said. “What we really did was start talking to participants: ‘What’s working for you? What’s not working for you? What do you need in place?’ That’s how the revival even happened.” Δ
Contact Editor Bulbul Rajagopal at [email protected]