ENCINITAS — In anticipation of the Encinitas City Council’s upcoming decision Wednesday night regarding the relocation of a homeless parking lot, the San Dieguito Union High School District board of trustees voted Sept. 27 to formally oppose the proposed site adjacent to a school and senior center.
The Safe Parking Lot, one of three lots operated by Jewish Family Service (JFS) in the San Diego area, is part of the city’s Safe Parking Program funded by the California Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention Grant Program.
The lot may possibly be moved to the lower level of the Encinitas Senior and Community Center on Oakcrest Drive, across the street from Oak Crest Middle School.
The program would call for a maximum of 25 parking spaces for individuals experiencing homelessness who live in their cars to safely park for the night.
In a letter from Jewish Family Service to the school district, the organization urged SDUHSD to vote no on the proposed resolution and show support for their program.
“It is through partnership with the community that together we can protect public safety and achieve positive outcomes for our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service wrote.
However, the school board voted 3-1, with Trustee Katrina Young casting the lone dissenting vote, to approve the resolution formally opposing the placement of the safe parking lot.
Those in support of the resolution and some during public comment expressed their concerns for the safety of students and staff at Oak Crest Middle School.
“No matter what your opinion is on the merits of Encinitas’ Safe Parking Program, everyone should agree that we should not have this next to a middle school,” Trustee Michael Allman said in a written statement to The Coast News.
The parking lot would be operated from the hours of 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. To join the program, an individual must pass through screenings of sexual offender registries, agree to work with a caseworker to aid in finding more stable housing and agree to strict rules against the use of drugs and alcohol while in the parking lot.
Hopkins wrote in his letter to the district that the program has already helped a wide variety of people when they are at their lowest and need extra help.
“For most people in the program, it’s their first (time) experiencing homelessness,” Hopkins wrote.
“Most have a source of income and just need a little assistance to get themselves and their family back on track. These are families and individuals of all faiths, backgrounds and ages – some are seniors living on fixed incomes, parents who lost one of their multiple jobs and students who don’t have a place to live anymore.”
JFS currently operates the city’s safe parking lot at the Leichtag Foundation property at 211 Saxony Road and would move their operation to the community center, pending City Council approval, starting on Dec 1.
According to a city report on the program, last month two households were able to exit the program with permanent housing and since February of last year, 25 households have found permanent housing thanks to the program.
The lone dissension in the SDUHSD vote Monday morning, Trustee Katrina Young, was concerned with the wording of the resolution and the message it could send to students if they or their families were forced to use the program themselves.
“By saying we are opposed we’re kind of propagating negative stereotypes for the unhoused and we’re basically lumping them into another category which they aren’t,” Young said. “So I just want to make sure we’re being respectful to those families.”
Public comment was split on the topic, with one commenter using an anecdotal story of witnessing drug use near Oak Crest Middle School across the street from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church as an example of why the city should not place the lot at the proposed location.
JFS said that anyone found to be using drugs or alcohol on the safe parking site would be immediately disqualified from the program.
Another public commenter, who said she lives down the street from the safe parking lot’s current location on Saxony, said she was initially worried about the location of the parking lot.
“Fast-forward over a year later to now, all of our concerns were for nothing,” she said. “It was a welcome addition to Encinitas and I am sure it has helped many people who are housing challenged.”
The city will hear the item on the proposed moving of the safe parking lot Wednesday during its regular council meeting at 6:00 p.m. The meeting will be held virtually.