Safe parking for Santa Barbara’s homeless could become national model, inspire federal funding

By Kathryn Barnes

Santa Barbara started a Safe Parking program in 2004 for folks living in their vehicles. It was one of the first in the U.S. to offer a reprieve from expensive parking tickets or that 3 a.m. knock on the door — plus it offered supportive services to get people into permanent housing.

The program’s been a model for similar ones, including Safe Parking LA, which began five years ago.

While programs like these rely on donations and grants, one U.S. House member wants the federal government to chip in as well. Last week, Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal of California unveiled new legislation that would set aside $125 million in federal funds for programs targeting people living in vans, cars, and RVs.

“There is literally no federal funding that can be used to operate these sorts of shelters,” says Kristine Schwarz, executive director of New Beginnings, a nonprofit in Santa Barbara that organizes the Safe Parking program. “Things like lot management, staffing, porta potty operations — those can’t be paid for through anything other than local or private funding.”

She says being able to utilize federal funds would make it easier for communities across the country to open up programs like this one.

The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Republican Doug LaMalfa of Northern California, is heading to the House Committee on Financial Services. Carbajal says it could be signed into law within two years.