Elected officials and religious leaders said Monday that they are launching a program in which homeless people who live in their cars in Oakland will now be able to park overnight in church parking lots without being harassed.
Speaking at a news conference at Williams Chapel Baptist Church near Lake Merritt, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said beginning the program is “both a very sad day and a happy day.” Chan said it’s a sad day because there are 2,700 homeless people in Oakland, including 1,900 who don’t have any shelter at all, but it’s a happy day because people who live in their cars will now have safe places to stay overnight. She said she hopes the program is only temporary because the goal is to develop more permanent housing for low-income people.
The Rev. Jim Hopkins of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church echoed that sentiment, saying, “Admittedly these safe parking lots are band-aids and on one level that’s really not very desirable.” Hopkins said he also hopes that the parking program is “a gateway to permanent housing” for homeless people and that more such housing will be built.
The Rev. Ken Chambers, the president of the Interfaith Council of Alameda County, which is operating the program with $50,000 in funding from Alameda County and $300,000 from the city of Oakland, said Williams Chapel Baptist Church will be the first site to open during its first phase. Chambers said it will be followed in mid-April by West Side Missionary Baptist Church, Corinthians Baptist Church, and Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Oakland City Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas said the program will start with 10 families who live in their vehicles and eventually expand to 65 families. Each site will feature an on-site security guard, portable toilets, hand-washing stations, drinking water, and security cameras, Chambers said. He said the Interfaith Council also will provide homeless navigation wrap-around services during the day that will include case management, job development and employment training. The program requires that participants must be employed or attend college and be the registered owners of their vehicles. Chambers said participants must sign a code of conduct and must leave the parking lots by 8:30 a.m. each morning. He said they can bring their vehicles to the lots between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each night.