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East County gets its first safe parking lot for homeless

Tonight, the unhoused in San Diego’s East County have a new option. A new overnight “safe parking” site with additional services. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere says it’s one of East County’s first solutions to the growing problem of homelessness.

Under the 67 freeway, just outside the city limits of El Cajon, a new “safe parking” program is officially launching for people looking to find permanent housing.

Back in April, the North Magnolia Avenue site was a homeless encampment with hundreds of people and tents.

Now it's an overnight space to sleep for those with cars, according to Teresa Smith of Dreams for Change. Her organization was contracted to run the program.

“So we will be parking 17 households, 17 vehicles. And it will be cars, no RVs,” Smith said about the new site.

County supervisor Joel Anderson attended the grand opening of the safe parking lot, which marks the first county-operated emergency shelter in the unincorporated region of San Diego.

“This safe parking lot is an incredibly important step in the right direction towards solving the homeless issue,” the District 2 supervisor said. “The program will provide these individuals with two hot meals a day, restrooms, hygiene facilities, 24/7 security and a membership to the local YMCA.”

San Diego County Homeless 01.jpg
Matthew Bowler
The sign marking the border between El Cajon and unincorporated San Diego County along SR67 is where a homeless encampment has sprung up, April 29, 2022.

The Safe Parking lot is open nightly from 5:30 p.m. through 7 a.m., but it’s not a walk up site. Participants are referred by the county’s homeless outreach workers.

“This is definitely low-barrier, so families will be top priority,” Smith said. “Obviously we want to get the kids off the streets and little ones, [to] get them in a safe environment. And as far as what we mean by low-barrier is that … we’re looking for individuals that just want to move towards permanent housing.”

The location can accommodate families and individuals that have running standard-size vehicles. Smith said the site will operate with a waitlist.

She added that the County is also looking at other incorporated areas for even larger safe parking lots.

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