SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Homeless advocates and community members in San Diego's beach communities say they have a way to help ease the homelessness crisis.
They want to turn the parking lot at South Shores Park and Boat Ramp in Mission Bay into a "safe lot" for people experiencing homelessness to park their cars and RVs overnight.
"While it's a great boat launch, and while it's a great access point for our parks and our bay, we don't think that's the highest and best use for it right now," says Regina Sinsky-Crosby, one of the people promoting the idea.
She says boaters rarely use the lot, and it's an ideal location to help people living in their cars.
"This will offer them a safe place to ask for help, and it will offer them the opportunity to get a concentration of services," says Sinsky-Crosby. "It's got a safe perimeter, lighting, bathrooms that are already staffed and cleaned by the Parks Department, dumpsters, and an RV dump station."
Sinsky-Crosby and her group have started a petition online asking Mayor Todd Gloria to make their idea a reality. They say the state's new Shelter Crisis Law for COVID-19 allows the mayor to do it without approval from the City Council or any of the layers of bureaucracy that often block plans like this.
"We really want to see the city take advantage of these state laws passed during COVID to come up with creative short-term solutions to this crisis," Sinsky-Crosby says.
Mayor Gloria sent a statement to ABC 10News, which didn't mention the South Shores Lot specifically. But he did say, "No issue is more critical right now than addressing homelessness, and I share the sense of urgency that many of our residents are bringing to the crisis. My top long-term priority is to ensure that every unsheltered San Diegan has a secure, permanent home and access to the services that will help them succeed. 'Safe parking' fills a vitally important short-term void as we work to increase our supply of permanent supportive housing."
Meanwhile, the mayor's senior advisor of communications told ABC 10News, "There is existing capacity at the city's three sites where people living in their vehicles can park for free, access restrooms and meals, and receive housing assistance. It's understandable why people might propose the Mission Bay area for one of these programs, but this location is problematic: There are significant restrictions on what cities may do with parkland ... The existing sites are operated by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, who are doing an incredible job of running this program. Anyone interested in learning more can visit www.jfssd.org/safeparking or call 858-637-3373. If this program reaches its capacity, we will consider additional locations through a careful analysis of potential sites across our city."
City Council President Jennifer Campbell proposed that lot for a safe lot in 2019, but the idea never came to fruition. In a statement from her office, she told ABC 10News, "The Council President has advocated for safe parking lots and increased outreach in the beach communities. We look forward to working with Mayor Gloria to assess the current need and prioritize resources accordingly for current or additional safe lots."
Supporters of the idea say a safe parking lot in the beach area would help people who can't make it to the other lots and locations where they can get help.
"They've got their social networks here. People have jobs here and are working here," says Caryn Blanton, the Executive Director of Shoreline Community Services. "To be coming and going from faraway places puts an additional strain on an already strained life."
They also say a safe lot near the coast would help many people living in their cars avoid costly tickets and fines.
"Giving folks tickets for sleeping in their cars or living in their RVs just further creates a system that they can't get out of," says Paige Hernandez. "It's perpetual homelessness. It's a chronic issue."
Hernandez spent time living in a car with her mother while growing up. She says creating more safe lots would be an excellent start to solving the crisis.
"It allows people to be human," Hernandez says. "They can continue to live within society and to feel like they are cared for."