As cities in San Diego County expand services and shelters for the homeless, the county now has only one secure parking lot that accepts RVs.
Dreams for Change’s secure parking lot on Imperial Avenue in San Diego’s Encanto neighborhood stopped accepting oversized vehicles this summer due to ongoing issues with the public, the association’s CEO, Teresa Smith, said.
Smith said the issues with RV dwellers are not unique to Dreams for Change and have occurred across the state in other safe parking lots that provide legal places for people to live in their vehicles.
“I haven’t heard of any that were an overall success,” she said. “It’s been hit or miss from what I hear in the secure parking community when it comes to RVs.”
Smith said welcoming RV owners was a challenge, she started accepting vehicles in December 2018.
“There was tension between the motorhomes and the cars,” she said, adding that sometimes the clashes were sparked simply because people sleeping in cramped cars were unhappy with the better conditions in the motorhomes. .
There were other issues. Two RVs caught fire and the owner of one left the charred vehicle for Dreams for Change to tow away. Another RV owner left and never returned, again leaving the nonprofit to pay to have the vehicle towed.
Smith said some RV owners may also be reluctant to help find permanent accommodation and are instead content to stay forever and free in a secure parking lot. Last summer, she decided to no longer accept RVs in her Encanto lot. Most are gone and there is only one person left in a trailer.
“I’ve heard that most secure RV parks struggle because they basically become an RV park,” she said, noting that the problem was not unique to Dreams for Change.
The only other safe parking lot in the county that accepts oversized vehicles is operated by Jewish Family Service in Mission Valley. Chris Olsen, the nonprofit’s chief of staff, said so far he hadn’t seen any of the problems Smith faced.
The lot actually accommodates more RVs than ever since it converted to a 24-hour operation in September, he said.
Smith said the change to the Jewish Family Service lot played into her decision to no longer accept RVs at her home.
While homeless people living in motorhomes can be a problem for safe parking lots, they are also a problem on city streets. San Diego’s Oversize Vehicle Ordinance prohibits motorhomes from parking on public roads overnight, and violators have sometimes returned to their vehicles to find they’ve been towed. Sometimes they never get them back, losing both a vehicle and a house.
With that in mind, the City of San Diego opened a secure parking lot that accepts RVs and cars in 2019 near the entrance to what was then Qualcomm Stadium.
Jewish Family Service was contracted to run the lot, but a few weeks after it opened in June of that year, something was seriously wrong. Only three recreational vehicles used the land.
Smith said at the time that she was not surprised that RV owners were staying away because the Jewish Family Services package required people to leave by 7 a.m., which was too heavy a daily burden.
A disabled homeless veteran named Robert Ewing had attended the pitch open in June and also predicted the curfew would keep away motorhome owners who could not afford to drive their gas-guzzling vehicles back and forth .
Three years later, the San Diego City Council agreed to fund 24-hour parking lot service following the release of a study by UC San Diego’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Diego. Among the findings of the two-year study was that RV owners strongly wanted parking where they could stay 24 hours a day.
Council members may have heard the same from RV dwellers. One day in July this year, when police issued a ticket and towed motorhomes parked on a street near Mission Bay, many vehicle owners said they would indeed go to a safe parking lot, if only one allowed them to stay 24 hours.
Mission Valley Secure Parking began allowing RVs to stay 24 hours in September, and Olsen said the number of RVs in the parking lot had increased to about 20.
The two lots have different rules. The Jewish Family Service parking lot allows people and their vehicles to stay in the parking lot with their vehicles all day, while Dreams for Change requires RV and trailer owners to leave while their vehicles are allowed to stay.
Smith said the rule was to encourage RV and trailer owners to get out and seek employment, housing or services, and to discourage them from getting too comfortable in the parking lot.
“Some people just want to hang out all day,” she said. “JSF said they were ready to deal with this. That’s how I see it. »
Smith said her small nonprofit lacked the same resources as the much larger Jewish Family Service, which might put them in a position to handle the situations she encountered.
At the Dreams for Change lot, Roxana Zelaya is the property’s latest guest living in a trailer. The owners of all the other oversized vehicles left, and Smith said she was trying to work with Zelaya moving forward, but had no plans to kick her out.
“They need to work with me and find a program that can help me,” Zelaya said. “I get stressed when they tell me I have to leave, and I do my best.”
Zelaya has a car and a trailer attached to a truck, which is a problem. She said she was willing to drive to the Jewish Family Service parking lot and would use her car to get to work when she found a job, but JFS requires people to take their vehicle with them when they go. leave, which she couldn’t do easily because she has three.
His location illustrates one of the challenges of providing safe parking for people in oversized vehicles, and Olsen acknowledged that Jewish Family Service prohibits people from leaving their vehicles unattended, but he also indicated there could be common ground.
“As someone works towards their housing goals, staff will work with them if special arrangements are needed,” he wrote in an email that also included a phone number for his call to the office. assistance.
Olsen and Smith said the majority of their clients are first-time homeless, about a quarter are over 60, and many have full-time jobs. Smith said around 35% of his customers have successfully exited roaming and Olsen said around 30% have successfully exited, but that could change as the data collection is new.
On a recent morning at the Jewish Family Service grounds in Mission Valley, many pitches were empty because people had left for the day. People in RVs hung around in or around their vehicles, as did people who lived in their cars.
Robert Prokosh, 68, has lived in a vehicle on the lot since July 1, the day he left Las Vegas after his monthly rent doubled. This is his first time homeless, and he said he moved to San Diego, his original hometown, because he heard about the secure parking lot.
“You can live here in your car better than in Vegas, where it’s 120 degrees,” he said.
Olsen said field staff will work with Prokosh to find long-term support and housing. When asked where he hopes to be in a year, Prokosh didn’t have an immediate answer.
“I hope to get out of here,” he said.
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