San Jose can’t keep its story straight when it comes to opening a safe parking site for homeless residents at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station parking lot.
Initially, the project intended to offer refuge to RV dwellers in the surrounding South San Jose neighborhoods. But after the monthlong sweep at Columbus Park forced more than 100 RV dwellers to relocate, city officials said the VTA safe parking site could be an option for homeless residents parked around downtown San Jose. At the Tuesday city council meeting, councilmembers debated who should be permitted to use the site once it opens in January. The discussion ended without a decision.
The safe parking site has been years in the making, and this week the council finally approved a five-year lease with VTA to start the program and provide 45 to 60 RV spaces. The program will be managed by LifeMoves, a nonprofit that has managed other safe parking spots in San Jose.
Councilmember Matt Mahan, who represents the area where the VTA station is located, said he believes the site should be reserved for residents living closest to it. For added security, he wants to create a two-mile radius around the safe parking site that prevents other RVs and homeless camps from popping up around the area.
That policy, along with offering safe parking for the surrounding RV dwellers, will show residents how effective measures like safe parking programs can be, Mahan said. Residents have resisted this program over concerns that it will attract more homeless people. Mahan said his office met with neighborhood associations regularly to come up with the two-mile radius compromise.
“We’ve told the community over and over again, starting with the initiation of this site, that this was a solution for our RVs in the area first and foremost,” Mahan said. “We just need to be able to build trust and give (residents) confidence that we’re going to implement this in a way that actually is a win-win for everybody.”
Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who started the project when the neighborhood was in his district before last year’s redistricting moved it to Mahan’s area, agreed the site should be for nearby RV dwellers. But other councilmembers like David Cohen and the city’s housing department pushed back.
“I’m concerned about a policy that says we’re going to take this first site and somehow keep (the area around it clear) while we don’t have solutions elsewhere,” said Cohen, adding it will just push people from one location to another.
San Jose’s homeless population living in RVs continues to grow as affordable housing is marred by rising rents and inflation. Vice Mayor Chappie Jones previously told San José Spotlight the city doesn’t have a grasp on how many RVs line the streets.
San Jose currently has no safe parking sites for RV dwellers, turning the occupancy decision into a hotly contested issue. Residents living in RVs even tried to create their own safe parking sites—but the city pushed back because of safety concerns. In October, more than 50 RVs moved into an abandoned baseball field near Columbus Park known as the “field of dreams.” It was disbanded by the city because the overcrowding of RVs and other vehicles created fire hazards.
San Jose first explored safe parking programs in 2019 at the Seven Trees Community Center parking lot. The program was shut down in less than a year due to concerns of safety and lack of participation. The city also funded two more locations at Roosevelt and Southside community centers, which closed last year when a contract with LifeMoves expired. Last November, a temporary safe parking program in North San Jose ended earlier than expected because the few residents who utilized the site moved to transitional housing.
Jackie Morales-Ferrand, who heads the city’s housing department, assured the council that RV dwellers in South San Jose would get first priority, but noted there are about 15 people swept from Columbus Park who expressed interest in moving to the safe parking site.
Councilmembers are set to have a more robust conversation about who lives at the site at their Nov. 29 meeting at 1:30 p.m. Learn how to watch and participate.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.