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Program repurposes empty parking lots to serve homeless population

By Cassie Roach, Safe Parking Program Coordinator, New Beginnings Counseling Center

The New Beginnings Safe Parking Program™ in Santa Barbara County, California, provides shelter and housing to the vehicular homeless population. The program utilizes empty parking lots that would otherwise remain unused at night. Each night, the program shelters more than 150 individuals and families who live in their vehicles.

Safe Parking is a safety net that bridges the gap between stable housing and outright street homelessness.


The Safe Parking Program originated in 2004 when local advocates, including a former county supervisor, saw an increasing number of people living in recreational vehicles (RVs). The program began as the RV Safe Parking Program to provide services and resources to these individuals. But it soon expanded to include all vehicles.

Benefits and needs met

Although people who live in their vehicles have similar needs to the general homeless population, they often face different obstacles and have unique needs. Traditional homeless shelters are often inaccessible to these individuals due to factors such as:

  • No pet policies.
  • Lack of parking, which results in an individual’s belongings being left unattended in their vehicle.
  • Inability to adhere to curfew hours due to work schedules.
  • A lack of feeling autonomous and independent.
  • A close-quarters environment that can trigger past traumatic experiences. Women in particular often feel vulnerable sleeping so near to men.

Safe Parking is able to address these individuals’ unique needs and connect them to resources before they hit the streets and add to the already inundated local shelters.

How it works

Clients enrolled in Safe Parking are provided with a monthly permit that allows them to safely and legally reside in their vehicle overnight in one of the monitored lots contracted with the program.

The lots are provided through collaboration among:

  • Non-profits.
  • The city.
  • The county.
  • Local law enforcement.
  • Faith-based communities.
  • For-profit businesses.

The lots are provided at no charge. However, the program maintains an insurance policy that protects each lot owner from liability. Currently, the program includes 24 monitored lots that provide a total of 133 spaces, sheltering more than 150 individuals each night.

All clients establish goals to work toward while they are in the program. Case managers provide intensive case management and referrals to community resources and government benefits to assist clients in transitioning back into stable housing. Staff members meet with clients at least monthly to renew their permit and check on progress toward their identified goals.

The program makes every effort to be available to any individual experiencing vehicular homelessness, despite criminal history, substance use, etc. The case managers screen all clients upon intake into the program to ensure placement into an appropriate lot, as well as connection to appropriate resources and support.

Success of the program and sharing best practices

The Safe Parking Program has achieved great success over the past decade and a half. The program has served more than 8,800 clients, housed 432 individuals, and connected 250 individuals and families to employment and/or further benefits since July 2004.

Over the years, the Safe Parking Program has gained increasing attention for the work being done. The program is contacted nearly every week by communities across the state, and even the nation, that are seeking to replicate the program.

As a result of the frequent requests for technical assistance, the program released its first official best-practices program manual, which can be purchased for use by other communities to create their own program.

Safe Parking often hosts representatives from communities to educate them about the program, answer questions, and show them several lots “in action” at night. Program staff members hope to develop and implement an official training program by mid 2018 to better serve and assist other communities in efforts to begin their own Safe Parking Program.

The vehicular homeless population seems to be ever-growing, but New Beginnings is hopeful that more communities will begin their own parking programs to assist and house this unique population.

For further questions about the program, please contact Cassie Roach, Safe Parking Program Coordinator, at

(Employment and Community Services)

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We truly need to help our homeless fellow citizens. Our Dreams for Change website offers the same program. It feels so nice to know how safe parking program positively affects our community.

Posted by: Michelle Catapang at 2/13/2019 6:55:23 PM

Hi Ruth. This program includes RVs. Send an email to Cassie Roach ( and she should be able to provide all the info.

Posted by: Brad Contento at 7/10/2018 8:18:21 AM

Do you have a safe parking program for people in RVs? How would I learn more about I?

Posted by: Ruth Schwartz at 7/9/2018 10:22:20 PM

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