ENCINITAS — Two standing-room-only forums have been held over the last week in response to a proposed safe overnight parking lot in Encinitas for homeless people living out of their cars.
On Jan. 9, a forum, hosted by County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar and Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz was held at the Encinitas Library. On Jan 14, a forum, led by city staff, filled up a room at the Encinitas Community Center.
The proposal was presented to the Encinitas City Council in November, with members voting 4-1 to move forward with the Safe Parking Program. Kranz voted against it.
The program, funded through a state grant and operated by the Jewish Family Service, would operate on a portion of Leichtag Commons, a 67.5-acre farm located at 441 Saxony Road. It’s located near residences and the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA.
The City Council will vote on the contract for the lot at its meeting Jan. 22.
“To me, I think it’s important that we’re implementing a program that prioritizes people in Encinitas,” Kranz said to the crowd at the library last week.
The consensus at both recent forums was that residents are not against the program, but they’re concerned about safety, the location of the lot, and that it will be like a “magnet” attracting a homeless population from outside of Encinitas. They also feel the city didn’t do enough to notify them or keep them informed about the program.
One opponent who spoke at the community center Jan. 14 said she was angry about the program and raised the question that if the lot was such a good idea, “Why did every other city in North County reject this program?”
The woman added that “we want to help the homeless, we know there are solutions out there, but this is not the solution.”
Another woman said before the crowd of about 200, that she wanted the city to gather the facts, do its research and “stop rushing things.”
One proponent of the program addressed the crowd saying the people who would be served by the lot aren’t “rapists and robbers” but families.
The Safe Parking Program would be the fourth lot of its kind — and the first in North County — run by Jewish Family Services. The other three lots operated by the nonprofit are in the city of San Diego.
The lot will be a resource for the estimated 350 people who live out of their cars in North County. It will have space for 25 vehicles and be open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. It will have overnight security, bathrooms, hand-washing stations, food and resources to help people get back into permanent housing.
Everyone is screened as to rule out anyone on the registered sex offender list or those with violent criminal convictions. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed on the lot.
The Leichtag Foundation organized a neighborhood forum at Leichtag Commons on Jan. 12 to address questions about the program.
On Jan. 13, Charlene Seidle, executive vice president of the Leichtag Foundation, said the organization said yes to hosting the lot because they felt they could easily accommodate it on their site with minimal impact and it would be helping those in need.
“We know from our community organization partners that there are single parents with children, community college students, seniors, veterans and others already living out of their cars in our community,” Seidle said. “We felt that if they are sleeping in a car anyway, sleeping in a safe place is preferable to sleeping in an exposed place.”
Seidle said the location of the proposed lot is in the very interior of the property, not visible from any street, and with a very large buffer between the parking lot, streets and residences.
Seidle added that safety and security is a paramount concern and the lot will be closely monitored in real-time. She pointed out that with Leichtag being a Jewish organization, and the reality of modern times, they have to be extremely attentive to security and safety. She said Leichtag Commons is completely gated with locked gates at night, they already employ full-time security, and have cameras placed all over the property with security and law enforcement access.
“For the program, we have mandated overnight security who will patrol the lot itself, so security personnel will be present on site 24 hours a day, every day … for the entire duration (the Safe Parking Program) exists on our site.”
Resident Crista Curtis, who attended both community forums, said she believes a parking lot is a terrible “solution” for homelessness, as it simply takes people living in cars from the street and into a parking lot.
“They are still sleeping in their cars. How can that be a sane and compassionate solution?” Curtis asked, adding that “for $256,000 a year, that money is better served putting homeless into a warm, safe bed with a roof over their heads.”
Curtis said the fact that they would be pushed out of the lot every morning at 7 a.m. is also problematic because then “where will they go? No one can say for sure, and therefore, there is an accountability concern that has not been addressed. How can a mom in the neighborhood feel that her safety, or her child’s safety concerns are being respected, when participants can pull out of the lot and park a block or two away, or hang out at the park where kids play during the day?”
Seidle said that providing support services to the homeless living in their cars dramatically increases their likelihood of getting back on their feet and keeps them from sliding into permanent homelessness.
“Those served are not the chronically homeless but rather the first-time homeless, those who may have had just one bad stroke of luck,” Seidle said, adding that many are employed and in school. “If we don’t help those in need, who will?”
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.