The Next Step in Addressing Homelessness in Fremont
The opening of the City of Fremont’s new Housing Navigation Center in September 2020 was a significant step forward in addressing homelessness in the Fremont community. Now that the Navigation Center is operational and at capacity, the City is prioritizing the development of programs that serve a different portion of the homeless population: people living in vehicles.
According to the 2019 Alameda County Point-in-Time Count, approximately 50% of Fremont’s unsheltered homeless population—about 238 individuals—is currently living in a recreational vehicle (RV) or passenger car. The total number of people living in vehicles in Fremont increased by 266% between 2017 and 2019. The number of persons residing in RVs increased by 450%, while the number of persons residing in cars or vans increased by 144%.
While many forces are driving these trends, one major factor is the rapid increase in rental housing costs which has forced many low-income wage earners out of the housing market. Recent surveys by City staff found that approximately 70% of those living in vehicles in Fremont also last had a permanent home address in Fremont.
Safe Parking Strategy
Over the next several months, the City is developing a Safe Parking Strategy to identify methods to provide services to individuals and families who are living in their vehicles. The idea of “safe parking” is to provide people living in their vehicles with a designated place to park that is secure and provides access to health and safety amenities. Some amenities that are commonly provided in safe parking areas include: water, sewage disposable, waste collection, power hook-ups, security, restrooms, access to showers and laundry, assistance with vehicle repair and licensing, and health and housing assistance.
Safe parking is a crisis response to recent increases in vehicular homelessness. Safe parking lots are not intended to be a permanent housing solution for those experiencing homelessness; rather, safe parking is intended to offer stability so that program participants can work towards finding reliable and safe permanent housing.
Safe Parking Strategy Options
The Safe Parking Strategy will be the blueprint for the City’s response to serve homeless individuals and families living in cars, RVs, and other vehicles. The Strategy will describe and recommend different programmatic options that the City could pursue to offer safe and sanitary areas where homeless residents residing in vehicles could park, either for a limited amount of time or until they were able to move into more stable permanent housing. The Safe Parking Strategy could include multiple options:
Developing 24/7 safe parking lot(s)
Creating a rotational safe parking program where vehicles travel to a different safe parking site each night
Identifying temporary sanctioned parking areas on designated dead-end streets
Providing additional sanitation services, such as a dump site for grey and black water
Providing other programs in which the community indicates interest
Anticipated Process and Timeline
The City has outlined the following process and timeline to develop a Safe Parking Strategy for Fremont.
To start the process of developing a Safe Parking Strategy, the City is seeking the community’s input. Please complete a community survey. The survey should only take approximately 5 minutes to complete and will remain open until Monday, January 25, 2021.
Safe Parking Success Stories
Other jurisdictions in the Bay Area have already implemented successful safe parking programs. Models for providing safe parking include City-operated 24-hour sites, overnight programs operated by religious facilities, and rotational programs where vehicles move to a different site each night. Here are some examples of safe parking programs that staff have been researching as potential models for Fremont’s own safe parking program:
The City of Mountain View Safe Parking Program includes both overnight-only lots operated by non-profits and 24-hour lots that are operated by the City. For the overnight program, private lot owners allow use of their lot for safe parking between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. A Safe Parking Operator manages the lot, reviews and interviews applicants, links participants with social services, and provides limited liability coverage. Currently, three private lots can host between four and nine vehicles each.
Two different safe parking lots are operated 24/7 through a partnership between Santa Clara County and the City of Mountain View. As with the privately-operated lots, a Safe Parking Operator manages each lot and connects participants with social services including housing placement assistance. Each of the City-owned lots accommodates approximately 30 operable recreational vehicles and provides basic services such as restrooms and trash receptacles.
Early data from Mountain View’s Safe Parking Program shows that approximately 30-50% of participants are able to obtain interim or permanent housing as their next step after safe parking. More information about Mountain View’s Safe Parking Program is available on their website.
The City of Union City operates the CAREavan Program, which is a rotational overnight parking program for people living in passenger cars. In this program, a different designated site is made available each night for people to park between 8:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Participants must leave the safe parking site every morning and check in at a different site the next evening. The designated sites include religious facilities, community organizations, and City-owned facilities. All of the participating facilities provide restrooms for participants, and a City attendant remains on-site throughout the night. Potential participants must apply to participate in the program through the City of Union City or a partnered non-profit organization. More information on Union City’s CAREavan Program is available in their program brochure.
East Palo Alto
The City of East Palo Alto operates a 24/7 Safe Parking Program that is run by Project WeHope, a non-profit that provides support services to East Palo Alto’s homeless population. The program can serve up to 20 recreational vehicles at any given time. The safe parking lot provides toilets, showers, laundry services, meals, security, and assistance in securing permanent supportive housing. Potential program participants are interviewed and asked to sign a waiver that outlines the rules of the program, including observing a 10:00 p.m. "quiet hour" and agreeing to work with Project WeHope staff to find transitional housing.
Thirteen families who parked in East Palo Alto’s safe parking lot received housing vouchers within the first three months of the program start date.