LA County Opens Another Parking Lot For Homeless People To Sleep Safely In Their Cars

The 10 parking spaces designated for the closely vetted homeless residents seeking to sleep in their cars. (Lori Galarreta/KPCC file photo)

Last year there were nearly 16,000 people sleeping in their cars in Los Angeles County. That accounts for more than a third of the homeless population.

Finding a safe place to park is not easy. So a nonprofit called Safe Parking L.A. has been working with private and public groups, like churches and synagogues, to make their parking lots available after hours. The lots are equipped with restrooms and security guards — small ways that make sleeping in cars safer and more comfortable.

L.A County already has one county-owned parking lot that's part of Safe Parking L.A., and on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to expand its support, extending the current lease on the participating parking lot on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, and adding another lot on Tujunga Avenue in North Hollywood. It also gives the county CEO the authority to expand the program to other county-owned lots.

Both of the lots approved for this year are paid for by discretionary funding from the county's 3rd District, which spans from Hollywood and Venice up to Westlake Village and Sylmar. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents the 3rd District, recommended the motion and said the demand at the current lot inspired the expansion.

"Clearly it's filled up the lot, because that's why we need the second lot, and more than the second lot," she said. "People kept saying, 'it's all fine to try and find housing for us, but there's not enough yet, it's not fast enough. We're living in our cars and we really need a safe place to park.'"

But the program is only scratching the surface. Last year, Safe Parking L.A. had 85 spaces. The county-owned lot accounted for 10 of those spots, but this year 15 more spaces will open on that lot, plus another 15 spaces at the second North Hollywood lot.

"The reality is we have to scale at a way that's appropriate for each neighborhood and appropriate for a small nonprofit," said Emily Uyeda Kantrim, program coordinator with Safe Parking L.A. "We just have to be wise in building a program that makes sense for each neighborhood."

The parking lots have to meet certain safety standards, she explained. For example, the assigned security guard needs to be able to see all the parking spaces while the car owners sleep there.

"If you have a car it's a heck of a lot better than living on the street," Kuehl said. "We have people from our departments trying to help them find the services that they need. Health services, even help finding a job, all the things that the county departments do."

Uyeda Kantrim said that emphasis on services has helped people utilizing the parking lots spend the minimum of time there.

"It's an intervention, it's not a solution. You still need a path forward," she said. "This motion that went through is acknowledging that we've had success...We're very fortunate [the county] has done that work."

Correction: A previous version of this story included the incorrect date for the Board of Supervisors vote to expand support for safe parking.


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