A week after it approved a study that seeks to limit the size of vehicles parked on city streets and the duration of which they can stay in one place, the Long Beach City Council approved another study to explore how the city could potentially provide parking havens for people living in their automobiles.
The “Safe Parking” program supported by a handful of members from the council seeks to model a program like one that exists in Santa Barbara, which allows persons living in their vehicles to park in predetermined parking lots, usually donated by churches and non-profit groups.
The item was brought to the council floor by Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who pointed to last week’s discussion, namely the effort by some to use the oversized vehicle discussion to squeeze people living out of recreational vehicles out of their neighborhoods. In her letter to the council, Pearce noted the possible side effects of a potential ban on oversized vehicles like RVs. She said that given the recent focus on addressing the homeless issues in the city, the time was right to begin talks of a Safe Parking program.
“This is something that’s been done in several cities and I think it’s the right thing to do and Long Beach is, after last week’s council meeting, primed for stepping forward and doing this,” Pearce said.
Santa Barbara’s program partners with New Beginnings Counseling Center, an area non-profit mental health provider, which helps provide basic services like restrooms and case management for the roughly 115 vehicles it helps safely park each night. The group distributes hundreds of pounds of food per month and helps people living in their vehicles seek out permanent housing.
According to the last homeless count conducted in Long Beach, approximately 230 people in the city were listed as living in their vehicles. A program the size of Santa Barbara’s could cut the city’s count of those vehicles parked on the street in half and could potentially help further the city’s renewed efforts to reduce the overall homeless population.
The study would identify the number of spots the city could potentially offer if it decides to move forward with a Safe Parking program, as well as the kind of basic services it could provide. It could also determine how much it would cost to run such a program in the city. The Los Angeles Times placed the Santa Barbara program at $270,000 annually.
At least one member of the council remarked that cost should not be a barrier to better addressing the needs of the homeless in Long Beach. Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews pointed out the disparity of funds allocated during the last budget cycle, noting that while the city set aside $2.6 million for animal care services, it only allocated $800,000 for homeless services.
“I love our cats and dogs, but we have to remind these homeless people that we have families and we need to have compassion for theirs and we need to help them and we need to do it more,” Andrews said.
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