Sonoma’s safe parking program for homeless won’t be renewed

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The “safe parking” pilot program that’s been on a trial run at the Haven homeless shelter on First Street West will not be continued past its three-month test run, it was announced this week.

“I think if we had started off in the summer we would have had more people,” said Kathy King, director of Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS), the nonprofit which operates the Haven. “But because of the very strict rules of the City and diminishing number of people who were parking in cars, it never took off.”

King made a presentation to about a dozen neighbors and others at the Sonoma Police Station on Wednesday night, April 5, outlining the numbers of the program’s use and the reasons why she decided not to ask for an extension. “In June when we started developing a program, we had about 20 cars, 28 people interested – by the time we got to December, we only had 10 cars. Most people chose not to. “

The reasons for the reduced interest in the program among the mobile homeless were varied, said King. “We had really strict rules with the City: either they didn’t have the necessary paperwork, they didn’t have driver’s license or registration. And frankly, they didn’t want to take the drug test.”

She noted that the county’s other safe parking programs, run by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, have “looser” rules.

Another factor, said King, might have been the relatively rigid, and inconvenient, hours allowed for homeless parking: check-in time was 9 p.m., and people had to leave the assigned parking slots by 7 a.m., according to the rules the City of Sonoma decided upon when they agreed to the program in November, 2016. “The early leaving was the worst,” said King. “People did not want that. You’re in your car, nice and warm and cozy…”

Although there were a handful of participants, only three vehicles ended up regularly using the program. But King felt it was a worthwhile effort to propose and promote the program, and Mayor Rachel Hundley agreed.

“Allowing them to have the pilot program, was beneficial in many respects,” she said. “It got the conversation about homelessness going; and it definitely was an opportunity to build relationships between the neighborhood surrounding the Haven.”

Not only have the Haven’s relationships with the neighbors improved over the past several months, but more doors have opened up. King said Gia Ghilarducci from the nearby Depot Hotel Restaurant is bringing over leftover food when they have events; Vern’s Taxi has provided “a great deal” to shuttle homeless from the Haven to other places where they can find shelter or services, such as the Sonoma Alliance Church; and St. Leo’s Catholic Church in the Agua Caliente area has begun providing support as well.

Additionally, many of the homeless people who used the Haven’s services – which totaled 32 individuals between December and March, staying for 640 “bed-nights” at the shelter – were given new sleeping bags that they could keep, provided by the Rotary Club of Glen Ellen/Kenwood.

But the trial period for the safe parking program in Sonoma expired at the end of March, and King has decided not to ask for an extension, at least at this time. One factor is the difficulty of running the program at the Haven, with its proximity to the Police Station and Field of Dreams. The other is the need for more funds to run such a program.

“If we do and we get more interest, we’d probably do it out at St. Leo’s (Catholic Church, located in Agua Caliente). They’re a new partner, they’re great,” said King. “It just took them a while to decide.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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