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California Cities May Now Be Required To Keep 'Safe Parking Lots' Open For Homeless Camps

A man pushes his belongings in a cart on a street, November 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
 

If a new law passes the Calfornia state assembly, major California cities will be required to keep and maintain "safe parking lots" for people who make their homes in cars and recreational vehicles.

 

Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are already struggling with unmanageable homelessness — largely the result of longstanding, left-leaning policies that prevent enforcing basic laws concerning things like public health and loitering.

The California state assembly, however, believes that the state's ever-increasing street communities are the result of a lack of affordable housing, so they want to do what they can to help those who choose "alternate" means of shelter, including living in cars, old RVs, and other moveable vehicles, by creating sustainable living communities in available parking lots.

CBS Sacramento reports that under Assembly Bill 891, which passed one house of California's legislature and is headed to the other, major cities and counties must "provide a safe parking lot, including access to bathrooms, to those with no place to stay."

The author of the bill says he believes it will help "transition" those living in homeless encampments to more permanent housing options, but it's not clear how.

"Establishing a safe parking program in California’s most populated cities and having at least one in each county will provide a safe place for vehicle dwelling," he told CBS. "These programs can be overseen and controlled by local entities, they will result in these vehicles being moved away from nightly street parking and into designated lots, and create a sense of normalcy for individuals who are living out of their vehicles. The goal of this measure is to help transition these individuals into more stable and permanent housing.”

 

The bill was originally written to apply to all California counties, but a subsequent draft, which passed the California Assembly, limits the requirements only to cities and counties with more than 300,000 people. That includes Los Angeles, San Francisco, and about 35 other localities.

Although the plan seems to make sense from a law enforcement and management perspective, it's not clear that the law makes any provision for preventing long-term homeless encampments from springing up in new locations. Both Los Angeles and San Francisco already have issues with the homeless forming de facto communities on streets and sidewalks, and in abandoned alleys and buildings. In San Francisco, the encampments have gotten so overcrowded that recently some homeless people have taken to building makeshift boats and rafts so that they can live in "houesboats" on San Francisco bay.

At this point, it's unlikely that either San Francisco or Los Angeles can "solve" the ever-growing problem of homelessness, so both cities are taking steps to manage both the problem and its impact on those who pay rent or buy homes in both places. Often, though, efficiency and economy aren't top considerations.

 

San Francisco, for example, has thrown millions at the problem of cleaning up poop-covered streets, even hiring a "Poop Patrol" of several workers, all making well into the six figures just to keep San Francisco's streets as feces-free as possible. In a measure discussed last week, San Francisco's city government pledged millions for public toilets and toilet banks to alleviate the same problem, costing the city around $8 million.

Los Angeles has proposed a similar "solution," noting that the cost of operating a single portable toilet and shower facility for a homelesss encampment costs in the ballpark of $300,000 per year, giving the full program a price tag of more than $50 million.

Critics say that both cities could save themselves some cash by simply enforcing laws on the books regarding public urniation, loitering in a public way, or maintaining an extended presence on public property, but so far, neither Los Angeles nor San Francisco is willing to consider that solution.

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