San Jose May End ‘Safe Parking’ Program for the Homeless at Seven Trees Community Center

A San Jose councilwoman who represents the area where the city launched its widely acclaimed “safe parking” pilot for the homeless wants to axe the program, citing concerns about safety and a lack of participation.

Maya Esparza—whose District 7 encompasses the Seven Trees neighborhood where the program is based—dropped a memo Friday urging her colleagues to rethink the overnight parking pilot when it comes up for discussion at next week’s City Council meeting.

The council on Tuesday is slated to hear an update on what the parking experiment has accomplished since its rolled out last fall. The program, which is run by the nonprofit LifeMoves, provides services—and security—to homeless families living in their vehicles. It originated at the Seven Trees Community Center lot and has since expanded to the Roosevelt and Southside community centers.

But it now seems that some city officials have lost faith in the program, which has drawn praise from advocates as an innovative short-term solution for the growing local population of homeless families.

A memo dated May 28 from San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand applauded the safe-parking pilot, saying it served 44 families from November 2018 to this past April. In addition, the city has seen 33 families exit the program at Seven Trees; 31 of them have moved into a shelter or permanent housing.

However, it appears that the city’s housing department has since changed course. Esparza’s latest communiqué on the topic refers to an unreleased memo from housing officials that reportedly recommends ending the program at Seven Trees.

“As discussed by housing in their supplemental memorandum, the program at Seven Trees has been severely underutilized, with only four to seven families staying there on average per night, out of 17 available spots,” Esparza wrote in her Friday memo. “Understandably, families themselves have expressed a preference to find indoor locations such as motels as a temporary measure, rather than continuing to sleep in their cars as participants in the program.”

Esparza suggests transitioning the families from the safe-parking program to one that provides motel vouchers, which will also come up for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.

In addition to lackluster program participation, Esparza says she’s been hearing constituents voice concerns about safety.

“The community has seen a substantial rise in RVs parked along the road adjacent to the parking lot, and with them an increase in reported illicit activity,” the councilor wrote. “While we recognize that many of these individuals are not affiliated with the Safe Parking Program, their sudden prevalence shortly after the onset of the program suggests a link to the existence of the program at that location.”

The parking lot in question also lies in close proximity to Los Arboles Elementary School, where Esparza says the principal and parents have voiced “extreme concern over increased dangers to children walking to school due to illicit behaviors connected to the program.” The D7 councilwoman says that those reported fears even led Franklin-McKinley School District Superintendent Juan Cruz to host a number of meetings to address the issue. Both Cruz and his district’s board president, Rudy Rodriguez, have said they would rather discontinue the parking pilot.

Esparza advises city officials to return to the council in two to three months with recommendations for a new location—potentially even the Leininger Center, another community hub in her district.

A couple of Esparza’s colleagues—namely council members Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez—also issued an advisement Friday to wind down the parking program. However, the pair say they don’t want to be too hasty, “given the success [they] have seen in transitioning families at Seven Trees to more stable living environments.”

“We recommend using the site to help stabilize and transition individuals living in vehicles, just as we are doing in our districts,” Jimenez and Peralez state in a shared memo. “To address neighborhood concerns as identified in the staff report, we support continuing staffs efforts to provide coordinated response and resources to address the conditions in the surrounding neighborhood.”

Jimenez and Peralez say they want the city to evaluate options for “more effective enforcement action” for vehicles that leak sewage or hazardous waste, produce trash, remain stationary or create visibility or traffic hazards.

“Residents and businesses are deeply impacted by ‘bad actor’ vehicle dwellers,” they continue in their policy recommendation. “To enhance the coordinated response by the city, new tools to conduct enforcement action are necessary. When there is a bad actor, such as someone dumping hazardous waste on the street, SJPD and other departments should be able to take swift action.”

Lastly, Jimenez and Peralez say they want to explore the creation of a daytime parking location—an idea that’s been pitched before by people living in their cars.

The San Jose City Council meets at 1:30pm Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose. Click here to read the agenda. 

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

6 Comments

  1. A few months ago the East Bay was applauding themselves for just such a roll out (on KQED radio) siting plans for only 27 parking spaces, with plans to hire a security guard and build restrooms, but to have it occupy a section at one of the BART parking lots. I wondered where the idea came from. I agree it’s not good to have unknown persons lingering about in an area where children and youth must pass through on way to school. I understood the program would have a sign up waiting list. As for those not signed up, they would be told to vacate if found to be parked on side streets or elsewhere living in their cars.

  2. Yikes! Please do not consider the Leininger Center. The former “Jungle” is coming back and this area already has too many homeless on the streets. If this type of program draws more RVs with illegal activity then this is not the place to have this safe parking. From the period 01/01/2019 to the end of July 2019, the fire department has had to respond 247 times at the cost of $2,019.00 per call to the Jungle. Just the other day there was another huge fire at the Jungle. On S. 7th Street between Alma and Tully there are so many RVs and vehicles where people live and it is so blighted. If the city wants to consider a Safe Parking program it should not be in District 7 or District 3. Our parks should not be considered and if the city decides they want to do this then lets pick other parks in the city and not just District 7. Unfortunately, the city does not care about the homeless or its city residents and for years have neglected this problem. They prefer to push all the homeless back to the Jungle without any concerns for the businesses, neighbors or the schools that are located in that area. William Street park is turning into one hot mess because the city refuses to spend money, time or resources on the homeless problem.

    Perhaps the city needs to look at what San Diego is doing to get the homeless off the streets or something similar to it. As a resident of this city it is getting harder to live here because of the crime and blight.

    • > The former “Jungle” is coming back and this area already has too many homeless on the streets.

      Uh oh! VERY, VERY ALARMING!

      > From the period 01/01/2019 to the end of July 2019, the fire department has had to respond 247 times at the cost of $2,019.00 per call to the Jungle. Just the other day there was another huge fire at the Jungle.

      I was told by a former California fire fighter that “homeless encampments” feature outdoor cooking, and gas stoves are propane tanks are commonly used. My firefighter source also said that fights are common in “homeless camps” and frequently result in tents being torched for revenge.

      It is now, PEAK wildfire season in California. The wildfire danger LOCALLY is rated as “high” or “extremely high”.

      There is NO reason why San Jose could not be the next Paradise, California. There have been fires in the hills around San Jose frequently. At a recent community meeting in Almaden Valley, residents pointed out to County Supervisor Mike Wasserman that in the event of an emergency requiring evacuation, there are NO exit routes capable of evacuating all of the people who will need to leave.

  3. > Esparza suggests transitioning the families from the safe-parking program to one that provides motel vouchers,

    Well! There you go! A SOLUTION!

    Why not just offer motel vouchers to everyone in Illinois, Mexico, Central and South America, Somalia, and Africa?

    Oh, and China, too. Motel vouchers for China.

    I’ve heard that the mostly white people of Minnesota are beginning to get a little “compassion fatigue” from providing for their hundreds of thousands of “guests” from Somalia, so motel vouchers in San Jose might be a way to fight racism, too.

  4. This is what the community tried to get across when Hope Village was being contemplated in an ill chosen location. Others with bad intents will congregate around the area and turn it into hell. 80% of the homeless have problems that impacts law abiding citizens. 20% are down on their luck.

  5. What is “permanent housing?” You hear the County and City of San Jose use this term a lot, but they consider placing someone in an absurdly expensive rental unit through a Rapid Rehousing program “permanent housing.” But is it really? The household has a subsidy for about a year, with zero income – so when their subsidy runs out and they can’t pay the rent, they get evicted. So, is that permanent? No. They just want to make their outcomes look good for that year…few of their programs are sustainable – but the housing department and county are fooling people while spending tens of millions per year.

    They County continues to bully the housing authority into not serving their own waiting list, and just giving all of their vouchers to the chronically homeless (while a lot of elderly and disabled that have been on the waiting list at the housing authority for over a decade get passed up. families too). Fact is, only a few of those “permanently housed” get a voucher when you look at the larger picture. That is why the County tried to take over the housing authority (and put Jennifer Loving on the board) – because they are desperate and ill prepared.

Leave a Reply