Local News

Council Approves “Safe Parking” Program for People Living in Vehicles

Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 (Whitaker and Fitzgerald “no”) to approve a six-month temporary “Safe Parking” program to allow for limited overnight parking for people experiencing homeless and/or families who currently dwell in their vehicles, at their October 1 meeting.

This would be the first program of its kind in Orange County.

According to the 2019 Point In Time Count, the City of Fullerton has an estimated 308 unsheltered homeless people on a given night, a portion of which are living in vehicles. The exact number of people experiencing homelessness living in vehicles is not known, but estimates provided by the City’s Homeless Liaison Officers and Homeless Resources Coordinator places the number between 30 and 50 vehicles.

In Fullerton, the majority of the public parking areas and streets are designated by ordinances to not allow for overnight vehicle parking and parking in private parking lots without property owner authorization is not permitted. As a result, people living in their vehicles must move repeatedly, or face the risk of citations and towing. The lack of safety and stability for individuals living in their vehicles hinders their path back to self-sufficiency, employment and housing.

City Staff has reached out to service providers to gauge interest in administering the safe parking program. Based on these discussions, the Illumination Foundation is currently the only known provider that is interested in administering this temporary program in Fullerton.

Homeless advocate Curtis Gamble speaks in favor of the safe parking program. Photo by Leigh White.

Proposed Components of the Safe Parking Program

A “Safe Parking Lot”, which provides individuals a safe place to park each night, restroom access, a security guard and, most importantly, social service resources to assist people into other programs and/or permanent housing can provide early intervention to redirect the path of people experiencing homelessness.

1. Hours. The recommended safe parking program hours will be from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30a.m. seven-days per week.

2. Sanitation. Restroom facilities will be provided on-site during the program and will be maintained in clean and working condition.

3. Case Management. Service needs identified and case management will be provided by the program operator with the intent of getting/providing more services for the vehicle dweller to assist them into other programs and / or housing.

4. Insurance. Insurance provisions and requirements for both the program operator and property owner will be required during the life of the program. In addition, each vehicle dweller is required to have their own motor vehicle insurance, driver’s license and vehicle registration.

5. Security. On-site security guards (12-hours per day) to monitor and secure the facility during use as a “safe parking” lot and help enforce hours of use as determined by the program.

6. Vandalism / Screening. On-site security, along with oversight by the selected service provider and strategic lighting will be utilized to deter vandalism. Additionally, all participants are screened as part of the intake process which will include an acknowledgement to adhere to the rules and regulations for the safe parking lot related to: noise, camping, cooking, etc.

7. Fullerton Vehicle Dweller Participation. As part of the screening process, priority will be given to participants who are currently living in their vehicles in the City of Fullerton, who have shown historical ties to the City and who begin case management services.

Preliminary cost estimates are $75,000. Depending on the selected location, up to an additional $25,000 in site improvements (paving, lighting, fencing, landscaping) may be required.

According to Community Development Director Matt Foulkes, the proposed program was designed based on “best practices” of other cities which currently have safe parking programs, like Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

“We’re very hopeful and we’re very optimistic about the opportunity for this program,” said Jason Wofford, director of operations for the Illumination Foundation. This would be the first safe parking program administered by this local non-profit.

“I think this is a really good proposal,” said Jose Trinidad Castaneda. “Up to 50 people could potentially be safe overnight.”

“A couple of weeks ago, a young couple at the church I go to…got up and essentially begged to the congregation to help them find a place to park their small van because they’ve recently lost their housing,” said Harry Langenbacher. “They do have jobs. They’re able to shower where they work. But they want a safe place to park. So, on their behalf, I want to ask you to implement this program.”

Local homeless advocate Curtis Gamble, who is on the Continuum of Care board, which oversees funding for homeless services said, “I’m very happy about the safe parking. I think it will work. I think we’re doing something moving forward, helping out the homeless.”

“This has the possibility of working, and if we can see that it produces results of transitioning people who are just newly homeless, living in their cars—I think we ought to give it a chance,” said council member Jan Flory.

Mayor Protem Jennifer Fitzgerald, who ultimately voted against the proposal, said she would support the program if it would allow Fullerton to enforce its anti-camping ordinances.

Council Member Ahmad Zahra, who supported the program, said, “I’ve experienced living in my car as an early immigrant.”

Councilmember Bruce Whitaker, who voted against the program, said he was concerned about the program “maybe attracting a great many people from a very wide area here.” He suggested local colleges create safe parking for their students who are living in cars.

Mayor Jesus Silva, who also teaches at Nicolas Jr. High, said “I have seen students living in cars and motorhomes. I’ve seen some of the struggles that these kids have, and the parents. So something like this might benefit them…I want to see this go forward.”

The City Manager, working with staff and the Illumination Foundation, will work to obtain a location for the program. Councilmember Zahra suggested the City Hall parking lot.