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City Council expands safe parking program in Mission Valley to 24 hours

The San Diego City Council Monday voted to continue the city's Safe Parking Program through June 2023 and expand hours of housing, shelter and services for San Diegans experiencing homelessness at a Mission Valley parking lot to 24 hours a day.

The program, operated under contract by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, includes the Mission Valley site and two additional locations in Kearny Mesa. The two latter lots are open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day. Mayor Todd Gloria proposed the council approve around $1.43 million to continue the program through June 30, 2023, with $440,000 going toward extending hours at the Mission Valley site.

"Creating 24-hour access to Safe Parking will help folks whose work and family schedules aren't well-aligned with the current hours of operation, enabling them to not only park in a safe place but also access supportive services and get on a path to housing," Gloria said.

City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who said his family experienced homelessness in the past, said the location and extended hours of the Mission Valley lot was vital due to the "incredibly time-consuming" nature of being without a home.

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Matthew Bowler
A table and signs are set up at Jewish Family Service's Mission Valley Safe Parking Program site, June 28, 2022.

Elo-Rivera invited Natalie Raschke — a mother of four whose family lives in hotels or a van while they attempt to secure permanent housing — to detail her experience with homelessness during his allotted time to speak. She spoke to the hours it took daily to pack up belongings and take her children to school while her husband worked, not to mention trying to run errands and combing through bureaucracy for resources for her family.

The effective date of the expanded hours has yet to be determined. The City Council approved the item unanimously with an amendment to instruct city staff to search for family-friendly spots for those families experiencing homelessness.

"I have seen firsthand how impactful the Safe Parking Program is in addressing the needs of our unsheltered individuals and families, and I am proud that one of these lots is in Mission Valley, District 7," said City Councilman Raul Campillo. "Expansion of this program to 24 hours a day, seven days a week will allow San Diegans living out of their cars to have greater access to a safe environment with essential resources."

Since the program began in 2018, it has served nearly 2,200 households — 650 of which have been connected directly from the program to permanent housing, shelter or family reunification.

"We are committed to changing the narrative around homelessness," said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service of San Diego. "Many San Diegans are an income reduction, major health issue or other unexpected emergency away from being unable to maintain a stable place to live, and initiatives like the Safe Parking Program are vital to prevent those who have lost their housing from falling deeper into homelessness.

"At JFS, we seek to continually learn more about the impact of our services. We received valuable recommendations from UC San Diego's evaluation of our program, and we are pleased to start putting them into action with the hours expansion at our Mission Valley lot," Hopkins said.

In 2019, researchers from UC San Diego's Department of Urban Studies and Planning began a three-year evaluation of the program to review the program's effectiveness and recommendations for improvement.

The study found that for 70% of program participants, this is their first time experiencing homelessness. More than 25% of those using the lots are older than 60, with nearly half older than 50. Additionally, 20% of participants are members of families with children, and more than 14% of clients are younger than 20.

The UCSD report recommended providing "24-hour access for at least one lot," in part based on feedback from program clients who overwhelmingly indicated support for increased access to the lots during the day.

"Our research showed that the JFS Safe Parking Program is one of the largest and most comprehensive programs of its kind in the U.S. It is a critical tool in our collective toolbox for addressing homelessness in San Diego," said Mirle Rabinowitz-Bussell, co-director of the new Homelessness Hub at UCSD and a co-author of the report. "It is our fervent hope that all San Diegans — and all people everywhere — be healthy, safe, secure and stably housed."