Encinitas to consider six-month contract extension for homeless parking lot
Leichtag Foundation has asked Jewish Family Service to find a new location
The operators of a parking lot for homeless people who are temporarily living in their cars will seek permission from the City Council Wednesday, May 26, to continue their operation at Leichtag Foundation property for six more months, but they’re already on the hunt for a new home.
Leichtag Foundation officials have informed Jewish Family Service — the organization that operates the homeless parking lot — that the time has come to move on. Leichtag has agreed to support JFS’s six-month contract extension request, but after that the program must relocate, Chris Olsen, chief of staff at JFS, said Thursday, May 20.
And that’s not necessarily a surprise, he added.
“All of our partners recognized when the program was started ... it was always intended to be a permanent program, but not necessarily a permanent site,” he said.
In an email Thursday, May 20, Charlene Seidle, executive vice president of the Leichtag Foundation, confirmed this, saying the Leichtag Foundation only ever intended to house the program during its initial pilot project phase.
“My understanding is now that the pilot has been deemed to be successful, the city and JFS are now assessing other suitable sites for longer term use, and the extension period will give additional time for that due diligence,” she wrote. “We have been honored to host the pilot and to provide a safe place for people in need to spend the night. By helping others, our entire community benefits.”
JFS, which also operates three overnight parking areas in the city of San Diego for people experiencing homelessness, won state grant money several years ago to start a North County parking lot program. The organization looked into various options in several cities before reaching a three-way deal with the city of Encinitas and Leichtag Foundation to use a small parking lot on the foundation’s farmland property and accessed by Quail Gardens Drive.
Under the arrangement, Leichtag leased the lot to the city for a $1 a year and the city then contracted with JFS to manage the operation each night. The site, which is accessed via a private driveway behind a locked gate, has space for up to 25 vehicles and some portable restrooms. JFS case workers provide services to lot users in a repurposed farm building that’s adjacent to the lot.
Under the program’s rules, prospective lot users must be pre-screened at an off-site location before they are permitted to park in the lot. The site opens for business at 6 p.m. each night and users must leave the following morning by 7 a.m.
When the pilot program started in February 2020, it initially operated under a four-month, temporary contract. That contract included a provision that JFS could seek three additional, four-month contract extensions, but JFS ended up winning a full-year contract renewal from the City Council just before its first, four-month contract was set to expire.
Council members approved the one-year agreement as the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic was hitting the region and said the economic havoc wrought by the pandemic led them to authorize the longer-term contract. Councilman Tony Kranz, who months earlier had opposed using the Leichtag site, made the motion for the one-year contract, saying he felt it was one way the city could “try to make life a little better” for people who had lost their jobs and housing.
“To say things have changed is quite an understatement,” he said at the time.
Community opposition to the parking lot project, which had been intense in the months before it opened, also became much more muted as the economic impact from the pandemic took hold. A lawsuit filed by an opponents’ group was placed on hold amid coronavirus-related restrictions on court room activity.
Early in the pandemic, council members and project supporters said they thought use of the parking lot might soar in the months to come because of the national economic downturn, but so far this hasn’t happened. The 25 spaces in the lot have never been fully occupied. Typically, the place runs about two-thirds full each night, JFS statistics indicate.
According to recent weekly lot use records, from May 3 through May 9, JFS reported an average nightly attendance of 16 people in 16 vehicles. An average of 27 people were enrolled in the program at the time, but not everyone showed up every night, the report indicated.
The parking lot program aims to reach people who have recently become homeless and prevent them from falling into a “downward spiral of homelessness,” the organization states in its publicity. To participate, people must have a vehicle they can sleep in. The program’s not designed to serve what are often a community’s most visible homeless population, the chronically homeless, vehicle-less people who live in improvised campsites and can have mental health or substance abuse issues.
Olsen said that 92 percent of the people who stayed in the lot Wednesday night, May 19, were first-time homeless people and 50 percent were people with a job who were having trouble finding affordable replacement housing. Forty-six percent were age 60 or older.
JFS is currently evaluating a number of sites both in Encinitas and outside it for a new home for the parking lot project, he said, adding that the organization’s “space requirements are very flexible” so that should make it easier for it to find a new spot. The organization also recently received word that it will receive a new round of state grant funding for the program, so that helps, he said.
The organization’s six-month contract extension request will be up for debate at the City Council’s 6 p.m. meeting Wednesday, May 26. The meeting is in an online-only format and in order to speak on the agenda item people must pre-register by 4 p.m. that day on the city’s Zoom link at https://encinitas.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_GdUttWzcRgGUGLlv4Z43xg
— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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