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Local RV Safe Parking Programs Can Revive Interest Statewide
by Steve Pleich (spleich [at] gmail.com)
Saturday Feb 16th, 2019 7:02 PM
Safe Parking a Local and Statewide Priority
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Our local homeless shelter emergency has generated several options for creating the additional space necessary for our community to not only begin to shelter its houseless population but also to avoid lawsuits arising from the federal court decision in Martin v Boise (9th Cir 2018). From that court’s standpoint, it was not a simple question of whether an ordinance prohibiting camping on public property is constitutional. Rather, enforcement of such an ordinance is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment if a homeless person has no alternative to living and sleeping outside:

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter”.

In other words, camping ordinances are not inherently unconstitutional, but a municipality can be in violation of the Eighth Amendment if the person cited had no meaningful alternative to sleeping outside. Clearly Santa Cruz is a case in point as out very limited present ability to shelter our homeless is far outstripped by our physical capacity to do so. But this sheltering emergency has prompted local officials to seriously examine an option that has heretofore been given short shrift to be charitable. That option is, of course, safe parking programs for the recreational vehicles that so many of our unsheltered residents call home.

In May 2015, I published an article in Street Spirit Magazine titled “AB 718 Offers Hope to Vehicle Sleepers”. https://www.thestreetspirit.org/right-to-rest-ab-718-offers-hope-to-vehicle-sleepers. At that time, the California Assembly voted to approve AB 718 which:

“Prohibits a city, county, or city and county from prohibiting or otherwise subjecting to civil or criminal penalties the act of sleeping or resting in a lawfully parked motor vehicle”.

The ACLU of California and the Western Regional Advocacy Project supported that bill along with many other advocacy groups who support basic human rights for people experiencing homelessness. Regrettably, the bill was defeated in the State Senate and since November 2016 has resided in the senate’s “Inactive File”. That file contains “the portion of the Daily File containing legislation that is ready for floor consideration, but, for a variety of reasons, is dormant. An author may move a bill to the inactive file and move it off the inactive file at a later date. During the final weeks of the legislative session, measures may be moved there by the leadership as a method of encouraging authors to take up their bills promptly.” So, the question we should be asking our local state legislators is “Why not revive the legalization of motor vehicle parking while the momentum of statewide awareness of our homeless emergency provides legislative and executive energy to this viable, practical and cost-effective sheltering option?

Our local ordinances continue to make it illegal for a person to rest or sleep in their own private vehicle, even if otherwise lawfully parked on a public way. Advocates believe that this type of ordinance has no other legitimate purpose than to target people experiencing homelessness. In fact, punishing people who have no other form of shelter by ticketing, citing/arresting him or her, or impounding their vehicle has a disastrous effect on every person experiencing homelessness who rests in their vehicle.

Statistically, the Number One cause of homelessness is loss of employment. Often, the only way to keep the family unit together is to purchase a motor home or recreational vehicle to use as a primary residence. This situation is fair more frequent than is commonly thought. Other vehicle sleepers are women and children who do not feel safe in a shelter, are ineligible to stay in a family or women’s shelter because of the gender and age combination of their children, or who do not feel safe out on the street or in other unsheltered spaces. Many people who rest in vehicles have some type of employment. For them, the vehicle is transportation to work as well as shelter. For all these people, the vehicle is sometimes the last personal asset they own. Punishing a person with fines, impoundment or seizure of a vehicle that is shelter, transportation and the connection to employment, education or medical care only deepens poverty and prolongs homelessness. Increasing the number of people without shelter or deepening their poverty reduces public safety and increases other types of local costs. One program, which has been developed locally and has been forwarded to both the Santa Cruz City Council and the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors is the Safe Spaces Parking Program. The program is based upon the belief that safe shelter is one of the most pressing needs in our community. According to the 2017 Homeless Census and Survey, nearly 2,300 people in Santa Cruz County are without shelter of any kind every night. Of those, 17% reside in recreational vehicles, vans or automobiles. Advocates for the houseless report that vehicle dwelling is one of the fastest rising segments of the houseless community and expect the recently completed 2019 survey to reflect a growing percentage of vehicle dwellers. It is estimated that more than 200 recreational vehicles, vans and automobiles serve as the primary home for families.

The Safe Spaces Parking Program calls for the city or county to designate a parcel of currently unused public property for the purpose of establishing an overnight parking program. Each program site would accommodate no less than 20 but no more than 25 recreational vehicles. Potential sites would be located on city or county owned property in commercial or industrial areas. Overnight parking would be from 6:00pm to 6:00am without exception. Registration for overnight stay would begin at 5:00pm and end at 5:45. Staff and security personnel would then review the overnight roster and set the night’s security procedures. Under the proposal, volunteers or a non-profit agency would manage the site.

Even though AB 718 was not passed into law, the need for safe overnight parking remains for an ever-increasing number of people experiencing homelessness.

We call upon everyone to lobby their state representatives for the reintroduction of AB 718 and to urge local elected officials to put realistic, practical options like the Safe Space Parking Program on the table.
LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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Parking for AllLinda Ellen LemasterSunday Feb 17th, 2019 5:33 PM
Stable optionErica Aitken Sunday Feb 17th, 2019 5:31 PM

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