VISTA — San Diego County’s next Safe Parking lot will launch in Vista, with officials eyeballing an August start date after settling on a location at their most recent City Council meeting.
The new lot within the Eucalyptus Avenue parking lot at the Vista Civic Center will provide a secure place for unsheltered residents living in their vehicles to park and sleep overnight. There will be space for up to 25 vehicles each evening.
Participants can also access bathrooms, handwashing stations, and case management services to help them secure housing. The City Council approved a contract in January with the nonprofit Jewish Family Services of San Diego, which operates five other safe parking lots throughout the county, to manage Vista’s lot.
The Vista City Council unanimously approved the new location at their April 25 meeting. Councilmember Katie Melendez, who initially proposed that the city enter the program, said offering this resource is essential in addressing homelessness locally.
“Twenty-five spots barely scratches the surface of the need,” Melendez said. “There are so many people who are sleeping in their vehicles in our parks and in our neighborhoods. These 25 spots will be meant to alleviate the improper use of residential neighborhoods, because that is happening right now.”
The program is funded by a $250,000 city budget allocation, primarily from cannabis tax revenue, and a $65,000 grant from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities for material startup costs for the program.
Staff originally recommended operating the program at the Civic Center’s larger lot on Alta Vista Drive. However, the council moved it to the neighboring lot near the Vista Library, saying it would be a better fit.
Jewish Family Services Chief of Staff Chris Olsen said around 300 people use Safe Parking Programs throughout the county each night. There are four other safe parking sites in San Diego, including one that opened April 26 in Clairemont and one in Encinitas.
Of all the participants, 57% end up no longer having to live in their vehicle, and 33% enter permanent housing, Olsen said.
“We know the need is great and that this public-private partnership has proven effective in other areas, including the city of San Diego and North County,” he said. “We are grateful for your support of this critical service in Vista.”
Now that a site has been selected, Jewish Family Services will start the 12-week preparation process to hopefully open the site this summer. This includes recruiting staff, securing equipment like portable restrooms and a staff trailer, and beginning outreach to partner agencies.
Olsen said that the nonprofit would depend on referrals from these Vista-based organizations, including the Vista Homelessness Working Group, Exodus, ElderHelp of San Diego and the Vista Unified School District.
Some community members and nearby business owners expressed concerns about the program, claiming it would lead to safety risks and more unsheltered people in the area.
“No one is opposed to helping people, but once you open up a lot, you won’t be able to get these cars out. If you misbehave, you get kicked out, and where are they gonna go? They’re gonna go to our neighborhoods and our parks, and they’re already there,” said resident Julia Shriver.
Mayor John Franklin also shared concerns about cleanliness in the bathrooms at the site and said the city would commit to keeping the area looking beautiful. But, overall, he recognizes the concerns community members have.
“I want to make a nod to the fact that the community is divided and very concerned about what this might be. I want the community to know that I’m personally dedicated to overseeing it,” Franklin said.
Councilmember Corinna Contreras emphasized that many folks are already sleeping in their cars in other areas of the city and encouraged empathy for participants.
“Right now, we don’t have a safe parking program, but we have plenty of unsafe parking situations,” Contreras said. “These are human beings that have had a really hard time, and they are so close to having zero shelter … it is oftentimes the last little bit of shelter folks have before they become unhoused.”
According to Olsen, individuals using the Safe Parking sites include young families, people fleeing domestic abuse and folks on fixed incomes. Over half of program participants are over the age of 50, and 14% are under the age of 20, according to Olsen.
“Since we launched in other locations in the county in 2018, the program has provided a welcoming environment and dignified support to help vulnerable San Diegans transition back into permanent housing,” Olsen said.
Those interested in entering the program must undergo a full assessment with program staff before acceptance. Registered sex offenders and those with outstanding arrest warrants are not eligible.
Vista’s Safe Parking Program hours will be from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.