L.A. Wants To Find Parking Lots For The 9,500 People Who Sleep In Their Cars

Part of Los Angeles' $2 billion plan to end homelessness in the city is formally addressing the approximately 9,500 people who fall asleep each night in cars, trucks or RVs parked on city streets.

The L.A. Times reports that the city is looking to experiment with a nightly "safe parking" program, not unlike one that's been in place in Santa Barbara for several decades.

For its homeless residents who live in vehicles, Santa Barbara has developed a network of locations approved for overnight residential vehicle parking. Religious institutions, municipal buildings, and other spots with usable parking lots are all encouraged to volunteer their space for overnight parking, eliminating the need for people to park their vehicles on the street.

L.A.'s own homeless plan claims a parking plan like this "would provide stability and safety to individuals living in their cars or recreational vehicles, while reducing the impact on neighborhood street parking and perceptions of safety."

The key words are 'perception of safety'; residents don't like to look out of their front window and seeing an aging RV sitting out on the curb every morning. They argue the parked RVs and cars-turned-homes signal danger, poverty and crime. More substantive concerns come from litter and sewage being dumped out on street.

In a statement to the L.A. Times, City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents much of the Westside, explained how it "is unlikely we will be able to birth a full-grown and comprehensive program overnight, so I suspect the way safe parking will develop is with some individual council members identifying lots in their districts, and with churches, synagogues and mosques volunteering to participate."

The fact that so many people live in their vehicles has been an issue for L.A. for several years now. Back in 2014, Los Angeles ordered LAPD to begin enforcing a ban against people living inside their vehicles after a batch of tony Venice residents began complaining to the city. Police began arresting and citing people for living in their vehicles but were stopped in their tracks when a group of homeless people banded together and sued the city.

A 9th Circuit appeals court agreed with the litigants, and officially banned Los Angeles from prohibiting people from living in vehicles. The federal judges argued the ban was unconstitutionally vague and discriminated against homeless people.

Since then, however, Los Angeles has failed to really grapple with the ramifications of having a significant number of people bedding down in vehicles parked on public streets each night. Though sleeping in vehicles is legal now, new parking restrictions tend to pop up overnight, forcing homeless vehicle dwellers to play a game of 'musical signs.' People park their vehicles on a street without restrictions, neighbors complain, the city adds new parking restrictions on oversized vehicles or overnight parking and people can no longer park there.

Parking restrictions on oversized vehicles were added to 19 different neighborhoods in 2015, according to the Daily News. City Council documents reflect that new overnight or oversized vehicle restrictions were added in three neighborhoods last week, following two approved the week before.