VISTA — Dreams for Change opened a safe overnight parking program on Crest View Road for homeless families who live in their cars July 10.
The organization has run the Safe Parking Program on L Street in San Diego for two years with a 76 percent success rate of helping clients transition to permanent housing. Clients range from single individuals to families of six. The San Diego safe parking lot holds 25 vehicles and is currently full.
“The biggest thing that surprises me is the community that is created when we bring everyone together,” Teresa Smith, CEO of Dreams for Change, said. “They become friends and refer each other to job leads and resources. There is a value in bringing everyone together and finding solutions as a group. It removes the isolation. They realize they are in the same situation and can get out of it.”
The Safe Parking Program in Vista can hold a maximum of about 200 cars, but the program will initially limit participation to 25 vehicles.
The Vista lot is open and staffed from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Water, portable restrooms and hand washing stations, staff, and limited access to electricity and the Internet are provided. There are also blankets and canned food on site.
Smith said the program provides community benefits.
“People are doing the same thing on the street in front of homes,” Smith said. “It gets them up off the street and gives them access to bathrooms and services. In effect, it reduces crime.”
Smith added that people living in their cars can be victims of crimes or may commit crimes because of lack of access to restrooms and basic commodities.
Families and individuals need to qualify for the Safe Parking Program and follow program rules. There is zero tolerance for use of drugs or alcohol. Participants cannot have a criminal conviction of a violent crime, sex offense or crime against a child.
Those in the program must actively look for permanent housing.
“The majority of clients were hit by the recession,” Smith said. “Their unemployment has run out, they’ve had foreclosure, lost their jobs. Seventy percent are economic-based first-time homeless.”
Smith added that another group of homeless are those age 50 and older, who are unemployed and not yet eligible for Social Security.
The homeless population that is not part of the program is the chronically homeless and mentally ill who cannot qualify for the program or abide by program rules.
Case management workers are on site seven days a week to help potential clients complete program paperwork, connect with Internet access and retrieve necessary documentation to join the program. They can also connect interested clients with a host of social services. For more information see dreamsforchange.org.