A nighttime safe parking program for Santa Barbara County’s “vehicular” homeless is making a move into the North County.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors recently approved a $280,000 expenditure to expand the program in partnership with New Beginnings Counseling Center.

The program currently allows more than 150 people to park at 24 lots around the South Coast. It also connects them to vital services, such as finding jobs, access to Social Security payments, as well as medical and dental benefits.

Created 15 years ago, the program is widely heralded as a success.

“New Beginnings has been a leader in this across the country,” said Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart, who said he recently got a call from someone in Seattle asking about the program.

Kristine Schwarz, executive director, of New Beginnings, said there’s “a significant subpopulation of the homeless” living in their vehicles.

“Providing shelter and a place for them to be connected to services is an essential part of them being transitioned back into housing,” she said.

The Safe Parking Program also has a rapid rehousing element that provides case management to help with the transition of program participants into employment and permanent housing.

First District Supervisor Das Williams urged commercial businesses and churches with their own parking lots to connect with New Beginnings because of the need for legal places to park for people living in their vehicles.

“We don’t have enough spots for the number of people who need safe parking,” he said. “More people are still participating in unsafe parking without an alternative.”

Williams said many people who live in their vehicles don’t fit the typical homeless stereotype, and are largely indistinguishable from other residents “during the day.”

“They get up in the morning, many of them have jobs, they go about life like we do,” he said. “They are a part of society during the day and an outcast at night.”

Schwarz agreed.

“There is a misconception among community members and people in general that the homeless population is represented by people who primarily have significant mental health and or substance abuse disorders,” she said, “but the reality is that the majority of people experiencing homelessness experience it because of underemployment.

“Living in a vehicle is sometimes a safer and more acceptable transition than going to the shelter.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said the program will help that vulnerable population’s situation from escalating.

“I just want to thank you so much for bringing this to North County, which has desperately needed it for a number of years now,” she said. “I imagine that when people lose a roof over their head, a car would be the first place to gom and if you could intervene then and get them back into housing, that would be a very effective place to do it.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.