By DORESA BANNING
Echo Park –The parking lot of the Edendale branch library on Sunset Boulevard is being considered as a place where qualifying homeless people living in a vehicle may park overnight. Were the site deemed viable and approved, it would become the first so-called “safe parking” location in Echo Park and could open to parkers sometime next year.
“The goal is to provide a safe, dedicated space for those living out of their vehicles, with access to restroom facilities and wraparound supportive services, until the individuals are able to obtain more permanent housing,” said Tony Arranaga, communications director for Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District councilmember.
Such a place hopefully would help keep the homeless from parking on streets in residential areas — an ongoing problem, said Emily Kantrim, program coordinator at Safe Parking LA, a nonprofit organization that provides safe parking options for vehicle dwellers.
About 1/3 of Echo Park Homeless Live in Vehicles
Currently, about one-third (166) of the number of unsheltered homeless people residing in Echo Park (488) live in a car, van or recreational vehicle, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2018 Homeless Count.
“The downside is kind of not recognizing that people are in your neighborhood in their vehicles right now,” she added.
Safe parking also would get some of these individuals closer to resumption of living in a home, as the ones who qualify are required to work toward attaining that goal.
“Safe parking does not solve your dilemma, but it relieves this constant anxiety and burden of where am I going to be and how do I not fall further into homelessness,” Kantrim said.
Potentially Controversial Proposal
The concept is not without controversy, however. Typical concerns include costs, parkers not leaving when they should, and potential trash and sanitation problems, vandalism and crime.
Located near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Alvarado Street, the Edendale library lot is one of many properties under review, after some Echo Park citizens suggested it for safe parking, Kantrim said.
“We’re very far from still figuring out if that would be a viable location,” Kantrim said.
How Safe Parking Could Work
Specifics haven’t been established because the idea of using this location is in its infancy. But, here are some of the elements involved in other safe parking lots operated by Safe Parking LA, which likely would be the vendor for an Echo Park site:
- The currently gated Edendale lot would be open for safe parking starting one or two hours after the library’s closing and ending one or two hours before its opening.
- Each lot accommodates 10 to 15 vehicles and, during parking hours, would have an unarmed security guard present as well as access to a maintained, cleaned restroom. The lots are open only to qualifying applicants (designated by a parking permit), are free to park in and operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Parkers are prohibited from camping, cooking in their vehicle, sleeping outside of their vehicle, drinking or doing drugs, for example. They must have a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance.
Two weeks ago, O’Farrell and Safe Parking LA’s Kantrim met with Echo Park residents and business owners, neighborhood council representatives and others to discuss the idea “and will continue to do so throughout the entire process,” Arranaga said.
The parking lot proposal is backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, “who will do everything possible to help bring this proposal to life,” said spokesperson Alex Comisar.
Safe parking is O’Farrell’s latest in a string of other efforts regarding the homeless population.
Earlier in the year, he proposed having a city-owned property in Echo Park, near the Edendale library, be evaluated as a possible place to build housing with supportive services for the homeless. Also, last year, in response to citizen complaints, he got the city to ban overnight recreational vehicle and camper parking on the streets around Echo Lake and nearby areas.
Doresa Banning is a freelance writer and editor, who may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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