A stalled safe parking program for people living in their vehicles in Lompoc may get some gas again as a model program in southern Santa Barbara County looks to expand north.
During a recent Lompoc City Council meeting, Kristine Schwarz, executive director of the New Beginnings Counseling Center, spoke about the existing Safe Parking Shelter and Rapid Rehousing Program operating in Santa Barbara and Goleta plus nearby unincorporated areas.
“It’s an opportunity to finally implement our safe parking ordinance,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne told Noozhawk of the program discussed often but not yet implemented in Lompoc.
“The focus and purpose of the program is to provide a safe place for people to go at night and park while they are looking to transition back into housing,” Schwarz told the council.
The need is great.
“Unfortunately, the number of people living in their vehicles is increasing,” Schwarz said. “As of the last Point in Time Count in January 2020, we determined that 51% of the unsheltered homeless population in Santa Barbara County were living in their vehicles.”
Twenty-two percent of participants have jobs. Many previously had housing but lost their job, got divorced or incurred medical bills that led to losing housing.
A number of those using the safe parking program are older than age 63, when finding another full-time job can be a struggle, Schwarz added.
Today, the program offers 26 lots with 156 spaces to distribute any impact on the South Coast. The lots belong to for-profit or nonprofit groups and city, county and faith-based sites.
Residents can enter after 7 p.m. and must leave by 7 a.m. with the lack of curfew providing flexility not found at traditional shelters.
Strict guidelines prohibit people from gathering outside their vehicles for cooking or partying to ensure the sites are solely for sleeping. Lot monitors conduct random checks to ensure participants follow the rules and leave by 7 a.m.
Funding is provided to help participants with security deposits to get into permanent housing or help pay for vehicle repairs.
Lompoc’s mayor said the New Beginnings safe parking program appears to be the gold standard and expressed appreciation that the organization decided to expand.
The city’s existing ordinance for a safe parking program may need changes since the city’s rules currently require obtaining a conditional use permit, something Schwarz said could hamper efforts.
“Essentially, any barrier that prevents us from being able to operate the program in a lot is a barrier that can serve to make it not happen,” Schwarz said.
Santa Barbara’s ordinance includes accountability and responsibility, but does not require a conditional use permit. In Goleta, lot owners must apply with nominal costs.
Money also can be a hurdle, with Schwarz describing it as a puzzle that New Beginnings pieces together with federal, county, city and private funding.
Council members welcomed a way to finally bring the program to Lompoc.
“I’m really excited to hear this because I think it’s definitely something we’ve talked about and is very much needed in our community,” Councilwoman Gloria Cordova said.
City Manager Jim Throop said the item will return to the council for consideration and action while looking at how to address larger impacts related to the homeless population.
“This is sort of the starting piece of it,” Throop said.
The item likely will return to the City Council within a few months.
‘For me, it’s really important we move forward as quickly as possible,” Osborne told Noozhawk.
A nonprofit organization, New Beginnings provides psychological counseling and housing assistance services to the homeless, as well as low-income individuals and families throughout Santa Barbara County. In addition to the safe parking program, the organization also works to provide services to veterans and others.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.