When Encinitas last week extended its safe parking program for another three years, city staff revealed that the program, the only one like it in North County, is serving participants from many cities surrounding Encinitas.
The program at the Encinitas Community and Senior Center has been operating for two years and accommodates up to 25 vehicles, allowing individuals or families to park overnight without getting ticketed.
It also provides bathrooms, handwashing stations, hygiene supplies and food. Participants can meet with case managers to connect them with stable housing options. Security guards are present through all hours of operation and participants are vetted before being accepted.
At the meeting to extend the program, council members heard dozens of public comments, most supporting the extension. Many of those opposed, though, were frustrated that the majority of the program participants weren’t Encinitas residents, reflecting a broader and ongoing debate about homelessness prevention.
Data collected by Jewish Family Service, which operates the program, found 38 of the 154 families that have participated in the program were Encinitas residents. Most of the participants, though, are from surrounding North County cities.
“The majority of participants are not local Encinitas residents, but hail from nonlocal areas,” said resident Natalie Settoon in a written public comment. “We are marketing this program to attract transients to our city.”
A few others echoed her concerns with some adding that Encinitas doesn’t have the resources to help those from outside the city.
Jeff Morris, a candidate for Encinitas mayor, has previously criticized the program, claiming that it has become a breeding ground for drug abuse and crime.
But according to the data compiled in the city staff report, there have been zero crime reports and no arrests made since the start of the program in 2020. Most of those participating are families, college students or people 55 years and older, many of whom are veterans.
Homeless services attracting people from outside the community is a common argument in debates about homelessness prevention. There are almost 800 unsheltered homeless people in North County, according to the county’s annual point-in-time count, and only three homeless shelters. Encinitas has the only safe parking program in North County.
That, one councilmember argued, is evidence that more North County cities need to open similar programs, not that Encinitas should shutter its program because it doesn’t have the resources to satisfy the entire region’s problem.
“This is a statement of the need for more of these programs around the region,” said Encinitas Councilmember Tony Kranz during the meeting. “It’s my hope that one of these days the surrounding jurisdictions will step up and implement a program of their own so that people don’t have to drive as far.”
Chris Olsen, chief of staff for Jewish Family Service, said safe parking programs meet a need that is often overlooked. These are individuals who have vehicles and are oftentimes still employed, but just need a place to safely park every night.
This issue does not only impact unhoused Encinitas residents, but unsheltered homeless people throughout North County.
“Homelessness is not an isolated issue,” Olsen said. “It affects people all over our county and, in particular, I think it underscores the need for more resources in all sections of the region.”
In Other News
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- Escondido police chief Ed Varso announced he is leaving the department at the end of the month and has accepted a job in Menifee in Riverside County. The city plans to conduct a nationwide search for new chief, in the meantime, City Manager Sean McGlynn will appoint an interim police chief. (Coast News)
- Oceanside is set to get $5.2 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to renew the San Luis Rey River Flood Protection Project. The money will go toward sediment removal and various improvements along the river to prevent flooding and protect the nearby homes. (Union-Tribune)
- The 1970s band Three Dog Night will perform a benefit concert on June 30 at Moonlight Amphitheater in Vista to help homeless youths. (Union-Tribune)