How Palo Alto’s new safe parking site is helping people who live in their cars

Bay Area

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KRON) — A new parking site aimed to house residents living in cars and RVs is now open in Palo Alto. 

The new 24-hour safe parking lot is a city-owned site and will be able to house 12 vehicles.

It is operated by nonprofit Move Mountain View. 

Supervisor Joe Simitian announced the opening of the new site last week, which is located at 2000 Geng Road in Palo Alto. 

“We certainly seen folks up and down the streets sort of  making the best of what they can of the situation they’ve been confronted,” said Simitian. 

“That dynamic is going to be there, we should just know it, confront it, and address it.”

The new lot will add to a large number of parking spaces that the county has opened in Mountain view in partnership with the city. 

Just a year ago, there were only eight safe parking sites in north Santa Clara County —  now there are 100 spaces available for families in Palo Alto and Mountain View. 

“That’s 100 safe parking spaces that people can use knowing that they’ll be safe and secure that no one will be harassing them, they won’t be bothering anybody in the neighborhood,” said Simitian. 

“That they’ll have things we all take for granted things like clean water to drink and a restroom readily available.”

According to county supervisors, 24-hour safe parking sites have been frequently requested by vehicle dwellers who otherwise need to move their RVs onto city streets during the day as “overnight” lots close. 

Simitian tells KRON4 News the new safe parking sites aren’t the answer but they are part of the answer to find these residents permanent housing. 

In the past five years, the number of Santa Clara County residents living in cars and RVs has increased significantly. 

According to the latest County Homeless Census, 18 % of unhoused county residents were found to be living in vehicles — up from 8% in 2015 and 2017. 

“If we can help somebody get to a better place, find them permanent housing, move out after a couple of months to a real place of shelter,” said Simitian.

“Well that’s a half dozen families that we can help with each space, so that’s maybe 600 families over the course of a year and that’s 1,000 people whose lives have been shaped and helped by having a program like this one.”

In addition, the safe parking programs offer case management thanks to Move Mountain View to help residents seek permanent housing, basic amenities like fresh water and restrooms fully equipped with showers. 

The Palo Alto site will be leased to the county at no cost. 

Operations Manager for Move Mountain View Michael Love tells KRON4 News the nonprofit which operates the site hopes to offer much more than a safe place for families in need to park their vehicles. 

“We also are working with volunteers to bring meals, there is storybook time for the kids with volunteers and now we have someone who wants to help us build a little library,” said 

“We’re providing many of the things that you need in a normal life, so services, human contact, case workers who will hear their stories and dream their dream with them,” Love added. 

“We’re trying to bring much more than just a scrap of asphalt for sure.”

Once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, additional facilities at the site may be used for programming for participating families. 

Under state law, the county has the ability to operate safe parking lots on a 24-hour basis, which county leaders say is key to their success. 

“It’s giving us more confort, more security because where we used to be they used to steal our generators, at night there would be people who used drugs trying to get in, it wasn’t secure for the kids either,” said the mother of two small children, Zulema. 

“And here as you can tell the kids can even play, they’re safe,” Zulema added.  “Everything is so much more comfortable.”

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