ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council voted 4-1 in a contentious marathon meeting in front of an overflow crowd Jan. 22 to approve a safe overnight parking lot for homeless people living out of their cars.
The Safe Parking Program has driven a wedge in the community since it was first presented at a council meeting in November. The lot, on Leichtag Commons on Saxony Road, would allow for a maximum of 25 cars from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. All participants are referred by area schools, churches and other local organizations and adults are run through sex offender registries. There will be on-site security, bathrooms with showers, and case management to help people transition to permanent housing.
The lot will be operated by Jewish Family Services and funded with a $256,000 HEAP grant awarded to the nonprofit. It would be the first of its kind in North County.
More than 90 people spoke during public comment, with a few more people in support of the lot than against it.
“There are families in need now,” said Rebecca Ross. “These are our fellow community members, you may not want to think of them as your fellow community members but they are … They attend our community colleges, their children attend our schools, their children go to school with your children, you just don’t know they’re homeless, you don’t know they’re sleeping in their cars.”
Anthony White, a 29-year-old husband, father, and Marine Corps veteran, said he previously spent eight months homeless and living in his car in North County. He said he wanted to help dispel some of the stigma surrounding the homeless population, namely that people fear them and don’t look at them like they’re human beings.
“I wasn’t suffering from addiction or mental illness just the consequences of failed planning, but I was criminalized for being homeless,” White said. “If we stay overwhelmed because it looks scary or hard, we won’t solve this problem.”
Opponent Donna Fazio DiBenedetto said the project is built on too many assumptions including that the city will be able to find housing for the participants and it will not lead to an increase in homeless coming to the area, and uncertainties like where the people are going to go during the day.
“You’re obviously not quite ready for this project and there’s no reason to rush into it, none whatsoever,” she said.
Jeff Morris said the city has lied to them to the point where there is “no trust level” and they’re ready for a change on the dais.
“Our motivation is to get rid of you,” he said. “If you’re not going to work with us what good are you? … You guys are not doing your job properly and we’re just done. We’re over it.”
Prior to the meeting, thousands of people signed a petition to stop the lot from going forward and the City Council has been threatened with litigation by a community-lead group called NC3 that alleges that the council falsely claimed a Shelter Crisis, and that they violated a number of different measures by moving forward with this without public comment.
Councilman Tony Kranz, who was the sole vote against the program, said it’s been a very difficult process and the division in the community “breaks my heart.” He said that because of a HEAP grant and an urgency to get a program in place the council jumped through “very critical, very important steps that involve bringing the community along.”
Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she didn’t think the council cut corners and she supports the lot because she believes it is the moral thing to do.
“And fundamentally it comes down to compassion is as compassion does,” she said. “I have frequently had the thought about the 16th Century proverb … ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ … It’s a recognition that the misfortune that has befallen someone else could come to you and it can come to any of us.”
The lot could be operational as soon as Jan. 30.
There will be an evaluation of the lot in May at which point the council can vote to extend the contract for three additional four-month periods, ending in May of next year.