Will OC get a safe parking program for people living out of cars, vans or RVs?

By Jenna Kagel

Parking tickets in many cities nationwide are back after a hiatus because of the pandemic, including in Fullerton. The return of parking regulation enforcement has made finding reliable and safe parking tougher for people who live in their cars, vans or RVs. Some advocates in Orange County are pushing for the creation of a safe parking program

Fullerton ran the county’s first-ever safe parking program, but it shut down in January after losing funding. LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano says the program came from three local Catholic churches: St. Mary, St. Philip Benizi, and St. Juliana Falconieri. They got together with the city to sponsor the program, paying for restrooms, hand washing stations, and all-night security.  

“It worked pretty well until January of this past year … when the funding just ran out,” says Arellano. “The city said, ‘We can't do this anymore because we need to spend our money on other things. And we already have a budget that's kind of hurting.’”

Program participants had to allow certain authorities to search their vehicles, and people with criminal backgrounds were not able to participate. Arrellano says the program was intentionally exclusionary in part because Fullerton “didn't want to become a magnet for people all across Orange County showing up there.”

He says what ultimately happened was the city spent a lot of money to help a few people. “I think at the end, they helped out 17 people [total]. They only got three people housing. And that's a failure at the end.” 

Currently there is no consensus on what the county should adopt in terms of a safe parking program, so the future is uncertain. “If it happens, it's going to come from these churches using their own funds or nonprofits,” says Arellano. “It is not going to come from city or county governments because this is Orange County, and homelessness is not supposed to exist here.” 

The safe parking program is not a cure-all to homelessness but is a start, he says. “But if Orange County can't acknowledge it, then the problem is never gonna leave.”