In August, the City opened a Safe Parking Program at Alameda Point, at a property on the former U.S. Naval Air Station. The program provides individuals experiencing homelessness, who are living in their cars and vans, a place to legally park overnight in a safe, secure, sanitary, and welcoming environment. The Village of Love, a local non-profit, was selected to operate the program, which can accommodate up to 20 cars and vans Monday through Friday from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. A day center, which provides meals, peer support, housing navigation, and referrals to other services, is operated out of an adjacent building. Funding from the federal CARES Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic enables the Safe Parking Program to stay open seven days a week until the end of December 2020.
Alameda’s Safe Parking Program was identified as an important need in January, 2019. At that time volunteers, City staff, and elected officials walked the streets of Alameda, guided by individuals with lived experience being homeless in the community, as part of the Point-In-Time Count. This counting of homeless individuals in the community conducted every two years across the nation found that approximately 231 people were homeless in Alameda, many of them living in their vehicles. Women vehicle dwellers in their 60s and 70s experiencing homelessness for the first time are especially vulnerable. They often suffer from chronic conditions that need medical attention. Even when a shelter bed is available, they prefer to stay in their cars, as this may be the last tangible thing that gives them agency over their lives when everything else has been lost.
Vehicle living comes with a high risk of getting harassed, vandalized, or assaulted. In October, 2018, the Alameda City Council declared a homeless shelter crisis in Alameda. That enabled the City to receive an allocation of over $752,000 in Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) from the State of California to support its unhoused residents. Following a series of community stakeholder meetings, and guided by a committee that oversees HEAP, 14 projects have been established, including the Safe Parking Program.
Lucy, a student in her mid-50s who has been coming since the program opened in August feels better at night sleeping in her car. She also has a place to plug-in her laptop and connect to the internet to do her online schooling. “I’ve been to other safe parking programs, and this is the best. It feels like home,” exclaimed Lucy when she was asked about her experience in Alameda.“We make them feel like family here, and the team takes a lot of time to give each person the attention and care they need. We make no judgment about how they might have ended up in their situation. We welcome them as they are and let them know we are here to help,” said Joey Harrison, Executive Director of the Village of Love.
The Cruz family lost their home four months ago and were feeling desperate until they found the Safe Parking program. Mom works a swing shift and rests in the car during the day after working all night, while dad stays with the kids, ages 10 and 12, to facilitate their online schooling inside the City’s day center. Outreach and case workers are helping the family obtain stable housing and get support from the school district.
Alameda’s Safe Parking Program is new and is growing. Nine people were served in its first month, two of them were older persons age 60 and above, and one in three had disabilities. At least one person entered a shelter, and four have successfully connected to health, mental health, and other supportive services. The program serves as an important touch point to link Alameda’s unhoused residents to housing and other services to end their homelessness and help them get back on their feet. For more information or to enroll in the Safe Parking Program, contact the Alameda Homeless Hotline at 510-522-HOME (510-522-4663).
For more information about the City of Alameda and Village of Love's partnership, contact:
Gerry Beaudin, Assistant City Manager
Ana Bagtas, Community Development Specialist, Community Development Department.