Photo credit: Ramon Quintero, Urban Habitat
The dual public health and economic crises spurred by COVID-19 have created a momentary increase in political will for lasting, safe, and affordable housing solutions for people who are unhoused. But the structural drivers of homelessness existed long before COVID-19, and will persist and even worsen unless local and state leaders act to address the root causes of homelessness.
Safe Parking programs can serve as a pathway to permanent housing for people living in their motorhomes or cars. When I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I was forced to live in a motorhome for over a year. The increases in tuition, housing cost, and loss of my student job after the 2008 financial meltdown gave me only two choices: go further into student debt or find a motorhome to lower my housing cost. I knew at the time that it was temporary, and I had access to campus resources that made it easier for me to live out of my motorhome.
In San Mateo County alone there was a 127 percent increase in the number of people living in their motorhomes between 2017 to 2019, according to a county survey. The survey showed that people most at risk for homelessness were veterans, victims of domestic violence, low-income single parent households, and households spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs. The survey also showed that about 59 percent of people living in their motorhomes were employed. In Alameda County, homeless deaths increased 88.7 percent from 2018 to 2020, half were due to chronic illness, and 41.8 percent of the deaths occurred outside of a medical setting.
According to Suzanne Moore from Pacifica Housing 4 All, there are three essential components needed to create a Safe Parking Program: land sites for parking, funding, and political will. In the City of Pacifica, community groups like Pacifica 4 All and Faith in Action, in collaboration with the County of San Mateo Resource Center, led the way in creating a Safe Parking Program. In Redwood City, Diana Reddy from One San Mateo has exemplified how community leaders and organizations can push for a Safe Parking Program to make them part of the housing solution.
The impacts of the impending economic recession should motivate us to find ways to help those in most need. We don’t know if, one day, we might be the one in need of safe parking and respite. Political and community leaders need to provide safe parking and a safe place to call home while working for a permanent solution.