As housing prices in Santa Barbara County continue to skyrocket, two local organizations are lobbying local government to allow the homeless to use their cars as makeshift motels.
The Santa Barbara County Human Relations Commission (HRC) unanimously supported a proposal submitted by the local Committee for Social Justice (CSJ) on Thursday, May 17, allowing homeless people to sleep in their vehicles in designated areas throughout the county. The HRC serves as an advisory committee to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and plans to lobby the board to place the proposal on an upcoming agenda.
The CSJ proposal outlines guidelines for the ordinance, CSJ Founder Peter Marin said. The proposal allows three vehicles per site, per night, in designated areas including church and business parking lots and land owned by the county. The proposal could also allow a single vehicle to be parked overnight on private property in accordance with county standards. In addition, an experimental site designated by the county will be used for overnight parking for up to 12 vehicles.
“It is obvious to us that many people can’t afford housing in Santa Barbara anymore,” Marin said. “Ideally, we think the county should leave these people alone all together, but we’re trying to get the county to set up something they’re comfortable with.”
The proposal is still in its planning stages, but the HRC and the CSJ hope to secure the approval of the board of supervisors in the near future, according to HRC administrator Mary E. O’Gorman.
“The Human Relations Commission has approved part of the proposal in concept, in compliance with the county. Our next step is to ask the board of supervisors to craft an ordinance,” she said. “The HRC unanimously believes it is the appropriate time for the county to legitimize the needs of the homeless to have areas to sleep.”
Marin said only a small percentage of the homeless population will be affected by the ordinance, but it is a step in the right direction.
“I would think no more than 10 percent of the homeless population will be helped by this ordinance – we don’t really know. We think it’s better to live in a vehicle than a bush and maybe this ordinance will allow people to invest in cheap vehicles,” Marin said. “As for the rest, we think the city should stop criminalizing anything people need to do to sleep. We hope that with the [Re] I.V. planning, they will leave spaces for overnight vehicle parking.”
Third District Supervisor Gail Marshall said she is in support of the proposal, but is unsure when it will appear on the board of supervisors’ agenda.
“I definitely support this proposal, but it is not on the agenda yet. It will probably appear sometime in July,” she said. “I think its great that the HRC passed it unanimously. This signifies a small break to those who are homeless, though more still needs to be done.”