By Bill Hendrickson
This story was updated on March 8, to include reactions by the Glassell Park Seniors to the overnight parking plan. The story was updated on March 14, to include follow-up by CD1 to the seniors’ concerns.
Safe Parking is coming to Glassell Park. A part of the city’s Homeless Strategy, Safe Parking uses parking lots that are secure, well-lit and available at night to provide overnight parking for people who live in their vehicles. Currently, there are seven such lots in Los Angeles.
The Safe-Parking lot in Glassell Park, which will be located at the Senior Center on Verdugo Road, is a joint effort of Council District 1 and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), in partnership with two nonprofits: Exodus Recovery and Shower of Hope.
Exodus Recovery will help identify, screen and register applicants for a safe-parking spot; only people who are pre-screened and pre-approved will be allowed to use the lot. Shower of Hope will manage the lot, including providing overnight security and maintenance. Both groups are well-known for their work with homeless people in Northeast L.A. As such, they are well-equipped to carry out the longer-term goal of Safe Parking, which is to connect the people who use the lot to services they need to become housed.
Jose Rodriguez, the Deputy District Director in CD1, presented the plan at a recent meeting of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council. He was joined by representatives of LAHSA, Exodus Recovery and Shower of Hope. Captain Arturo Sandoval of the LAPD Northeast Division also attended the meeting to speak in support of the plan.
Sandoval said that Safe Parking is better from a public safety point of view than having cars parked on the street overnight, because people living in cars are vulnerable to crime, especially at night. He also said that Safe Parking is better for homeowners and businesses, because it helps to keep cars that are used by homeless people off residential and commercial streets. There are laws against living in a vehicle, Sandoval said, but they are difficult to enforce, especially now that homelessness has become pervasive.
On February 19, the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council voted 7 to 1 to send a letter CD1 Councilmember Gil Cedillo in support of the Safe Parking plan.
On March 8, however, 60 of the Glassell Park Seniors, an organized group that meets at the Glassell Park Senior Center, raised concerns and objections about the Safe Parking plan.
Ann Wheeler, a leader of the group, told the Boulevard Sentinel that the seniors were ready “to fight” the plan, which they had learned of by reading about it in the Sentinel.
Many of the seniors at the meeting were angry and dismayed that they had not been informed or consulted by CD1 about the Safe Parking plan. A particular concern was what would happen to the parking spaces they use when they go on overnight and weekend excursions. They agreed among themselves to contact CD1 for answers.
A spokesperson for CD1 Councilmember Gil Cedillo told the Sentinel that there had been no outreach to the seniors about the plan; rather, CD1 had sought and received the backing of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council.
That position quickly changed when CD-1 received a petition signed by 47 of the seniors and sent to Councilmember Cedillo on Friday after their meeting. A spokesperson for CD-1 told the Sentinel: “We will follow up early next week to address all concerns.”
The meeting – attended by about 60 seniors and four staff members from CD1 on March 14 — began with an acknowledgement by Tony Ricasa, Assistant Chief of Staff for Cedillo. “We made a mistake not informing the seniors,” he said. Ricasa also said that the safe-parking plan was an example of Cedillo’s career-long effort to “serve the least of our brothers and sisters.”
Jose Rodriquez, Deputy District Director for Cedillo, told the seniors that CD1 had looked at six possible lots for safe parking and that the lot at the Glassell Park Senior Center was the best in terms of lot size and security.
Rodriquez also took questions from the seniors. For example, when asked what would happen to parking spaces that seniors use when they go on overnight and weekend trips, he said that parking for them would be made available. He said that homeless people would have no access to the Senior Center at night. He said that any animals brought in by the homeless people would have flee collars.
The seniors were attentive and engaged and appreciated the information, seeming to take a collective wait-and-see attitude rather than to continue protesting the safe parking plan.
Rodriquez said the lot is expected to begin operation in early April (as opposed to the mid-March launch date originally planned.) . Approved users can enter from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and must leave by 7 a.m. They can leave any time before 7 a.m. if they wish, but will not be allowed back in once they exit. There will be one portable toilet and hand wash station. Shower of Hope will regularly service and maintain the toilet as part of its job to secure and maintain the site.
The lot can accommodate up to 20 vehicles, but will probably start with 10, said Eliza McCormick of Exodus Recovery, in a recent interview with the Boulevard Sentinel. McCormick explained that applicants must sign on “not just for a place to park,” but for assistance from Exodus with housing and other services to help them become housed.
Becky Gross, a project manager at LAHSA, told the Boulevard Sentinel that there have been “no troublesome incidents” to report at the city’s other Safe-Parking lots and that the average stay at those lots has been about three months.
During the 2018 Homeless Count, 102 vehicles with homeless people living in them were counted in Northeast L.A. Outreach efforts to sign up people for Safe Parking in Glassell Park will focus on people who live in vehicles in Glassell Park and other NELA neighborhoods.