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'Like Our Family': Safe Lot Provides More Than Space For Those Experiencing Homelessness

LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4) - A church parking lot in Longmont has become a new kind of sanctuary for nearly a dozen people who live in their cars. It's believed to be the first official safe parking lot for people experiencing homelessness in Colorado.

In just a few short weeks it's already having an enormous impact on participants.

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"We sleep so much better at night because we don't have to worry about anyone knocking on our window, someone telling us we have to move," said Heather Surovik. "It's secure. It feels nice to be safe."

Surovik and her boyfriend Nick Atencio have been living out of a car for nearly two years. After spending time around Denver they came back to Longmont, where Surovik is from, a few months ago.

"It's scary because you don't know who is going to knocking on your window, who is going to be looking in your window if you don't have window coverings. It's scary. It's hard to find some place safe that nobody bothers you," Surovik said.

The Longmont nonprofit, Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement or HOPE runs the safe lot. It partnered with a church which provides the parking lot, bathrooms, a shower, and a communal room where participants get nightly dinner and breakfast every morning. There's even storage so participants have a safe area to store belongings instead of keeping everything in their car.

HOPE has been working with the city and other community partners for nearly a year. The first lot is capped at 10 people. There's already a waiting list. A second lot is in the works.

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"You feel like a human again, you don't just feel like you're looked down upon," Surovik said. "You're comfortable, you're happy, you feel like you belong somewhere, which I think is my biggest thing. I didn't feel like I belonged because I didn't have a house, I couldn't go shopping for house things."

She's started working again, sleeping better, and has a much more positive outlook on life knowing she has a secure place to be each night. The hope is the couple can start saving the thousands of dollars required to afford rent and a security deposit in an apartment.

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"I'm so blessed and so happy to be a part of this. There's one lady that asks me about my son all the time. You don't get that sleeping in a Walmart parking lot… you don't get people that really care about you and show you that they care. And these guys do. We don't just have a safe lot. We have a family. They're all like our family," Surovik said.

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