The Lompoc City Council voted this past week to approve a property lease to the New Beginnings Counseling Center for a new designated safe parking lot.
The property, at 428 N. I St., is intended to provide individuals experiencing vehicular homelessness a safe place to sleep, as part of the organization’s Safe Parking Program.
Santa Barbara County has 26 safe parking lots total, with 14 in Santa Barbara, five in Goleta and seven in unincorporated areas of the county, including one outside Lompoc, according to Cassie Roach, the program and senior case manager for the Safe Parking Program at NBCC.
“We are hoping to be able to renovate the building on-site at this Lompoc lot to provide restroom access, showers, laundry and electric outlet access for charging devices,” Ms. Roach told the News-Press. “Case management services are largely provided in-office to best coordinate with other agencies and community partners. Most of our lots in South County have restroom access, but we refer clients to other resources for showers, laundry, etc.”
Lompoc accounts for 12% of the vehicular homeless population in Santa Barbara County. The third highest is Goleta which accounts for 18%, and the highest is the city of Santa Barbara which accounts for 43%, according to the 2020 Point-in-Time Count, which is a countywide survey of those experiencing homelessness.
Most of the safe parking lots average at about six parking spaces, with the largest utilizing 15. This will hold true for the lot coming to Lompoc.
“We keep the space numbers low to allow for privacy and avoid any undue impact on the neighborhood,” Ms. Roach said.
NBCC staff members have a comprehensive intake process they complete with each client that uses the safe parking lots. They develop a case management and housing plan for every client and lot monitors do rounds during overnight hours.
Clients must sign up for permits monthly to allow a case manager to contact them and check in to see if any additional resources or help is needed.
The goal of the lots is to provide a safe and monitored place for homeless individuals, who are also required to work with staff to transition back into permanent, stable housing. Over the 16-year span the parking program has operated, there have been no major issues reported in any of the lots, Ms. Roach said.
“Safe Parking actually increases safety in the community by taking vulnerable folks off the street where they could be preyed upon and places them in a monitored lot,” she said. “The program is highly structured and holds clients accountable to program rules.
“We are mindful of lot locations and potential impact on the surrounding neighborhood. This is why we keep the number of spaces utilized in each lot low and why we have not advertised our South County lot locations.”
The lots’ overnight operating hours are 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., which Ms. Roach said prevents overlap with nearby school or daycare hours.
The 2020 Point-in-Time Count found that 51% of the county’s 1,221 unsheltered individuals are in vehicles, which is roughly 624 individuals. Ms. Roach said the counseling center has heard anecdotally that vehicular homelessness has increased since the pandemic began, so they therefore increased outreach, but none of the numbers have been updated since the start of the pandemic.
That being said, she shared that the Safe Parking Program hopes to increase the number of lots in Lompoc and the surrounding unincorporated areas, and implement some in Santa Maria. Expansion efforts are also underway in South County.
“Our goal is to provide services to the hundreds of individuals sleeping in their vehicles throughout the county and successfully transition them into permanent housing,” Ms. Roach said. “Our lots will positively impact the community by taking vulnerable and largely unreached individuals off the street and connecting them to services. We will provide a safe place for our clients to sleep and stabilize while we assist them in reintegrating back into the community.”
Next for the process is a permit required by Lompoc’s Zoning Code, and once NBCC gains that permit, the lot can be developed. City officials will then mitigate and address any impacts that could or would occur, according to Christie Alarcon, Lompoc’s community development director.
“We know that their intent is to operate a Safe Parking Program at the site and (we) are happy that there will be a safe option for vehicular homeless services in Lompoc that has not existed before,” Ms. Alarcon told the News-Press. “We are hopeful that those experiencing homelessness will be able to connect with services to get back into housing. NBCC has a great track record and is not new to Safe Parking Program operations.”