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Palo Alto considers expanding church safe parking program for homeless

Palo Alto considers expanding church safe parking program
Palo Alto considers expanding church safe parking program 02:40

PALO ALTO -- The city of Palo Alto invited churches to open their parking lots to people living in their cars about three years ago. The Safe Parking pilot program was meant to help tackle the city's homeless problem.

KPIX visited the four participating locations, which include the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto and Highway Community, and only found one person taking advantage of the space Sunday evening.

"Some of it may be awareness. I think some people just want to have the freedom because there's actually some requirements. You have to have a case worker," said councilmember Greg Tanaka.

Tanaka said the program, which is run by the non-profit MOVE Mountain View, helped 25 households from Jan. 2021 to June 2023.

People in cars are welcome to park after 7 p.m. and must leave in the morning.

On Monday, the council will discuss expanding and permanently establishing the program.

"The bigger challenge is that we don't have the parking enforcement coupled together with the Safe Parking program and so we don't have the carrot-stick thing going on that other cities do," he added.

For example, Tanaka said the city will not force RVs to move even though they are in violation of the law.

At this time, no RVs are permitted at the participating church parking lots.

"The demand is high. Our spots at the church, they're giving back to the community but it's not enough," said Reverend Catherine Boyle at Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto.

Boyle said the church is thinking about providing laundry services, a kitchen and showers to participants.

"I think it's up to all of us in the community to get the word out that this exists because it's obviously being underutilized and, I think, it's a really good program to help people transition from one stage of their life to the next," she said.

Tanaka said the city has received some complaints from residents regarding portable outdoor toilets and blight.

"I think success to me would be people that participate in this program. They find more permanent housing. I think that, to me, is a success. I haven't seen too much evidence of this. It's something I'll be asking about tomorrow," Tanaka said.

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