East Palo Alto RV Safe Parking Program Provides Services to Transitioning Residents | New
When Lupita Lara was homeless ten years ago, she had to fend for herself. Now, as a case manager for WeHope, an East Palo Alto nonprofit that serves people who are homeless or who live in their vehicles, she brings help she never got.
“I was homeless in 2011 and I wish there was help now I had with my case manager. I would do it myself,” Lara said. “I wanted to help other homeless people to let them know it’s okay. We’ve all been there. I understand what they’re going through and I can help them.”
Since 2019, WeHope has implemented a secure parking program for motorhomes at 1798, bay road. The car park provides a safe place for up to 20 RV residents to park their vehicles for free. Residents also receive free amenities and meals so they can save money for housing in the future.
According to the Bay Area Equity Atlas, half of Bay Area renters are on rent, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, a regional data center that analyzes data and reports on trends in inequalities.
The high cost of rent sometimes pushes low-income people out of their homes, out of state, or onto the streets. In 2019, 1,512 people were counted as homeless in San Mateo County. Of these, 494 lived in motorhomes, having to park on the street and comply with city laws that could prohibit parking in certain areas or at certain times.
Rising rents prompted Maria Elena Vasquez and her husband to move into an RV, where they now live as part of WeHope’s secure parking program. Vasquez has lived on the Bay Road site for two years, where she feels safe and protected after living on the streets.
“It’s ugly to live on the streets,” Vasquez said in an interview translated from Spanish. “Here, we feel protected.
After Vasquez’s owner doubled the rent on their Menlo Park studio – they should have paid over $ 3,000 – Vasquez’s husband bought a motorhome for a one-time cost of around $ 4,000.
Buying the motorhome was cheaper than paying monthly rent. But living on the streets had its own challenges.
“We parked wherever we found a spot,” Vasquez said, adding that she feared she would be robbed or “someone was going to shoot me because I was working at night and coming home early in the morning. “.
In the Secure RV Parking program, residents receive free water, electricity, showers, daily meals, and 24-hour security. Renting a spot in some private RV parks may cost $ 80 per night or over $ 1,000 per month on the peninsula.
“Thank goodness they haven’t charged us anything since the day we moved here,” Vasquez said. “All of this helps us save what little money we get.… We have a lot of help from the program, but it’s not enough because we want to have a place to live.”
But the search for permanent accommodation has been long and unsuccessful so far. Vasquez, who has been unemployed due to the pandemic, said she had filled out several applications but had heard from none. The waiting list for affordable housing can go on for months, sometimes years.
Since the program started in 2019, WeHope has helped 34 of its last 73 clients move into permanent housing, which is their ultimate goal. Last May, the park was full, with five people on the waiting list.
As WeHope’s Senior Case Manager, Lara helps connect residents with healthcare, housing applications, or the logistics of living, like getting a permit.
“I defend them as much as I can,” said Lara. “My clients know they can call me whenever they want … I work eight to five but I’m always there for my clients.”
His proudest moment was when one of his clients bought his own house with the money he saved by living in the park.
“A lot of clients say I’m a little strict, but at the end of the day they thank me. So she thanked me for pushing her. She thanked me for always being on her,” Lara said.
There are also two modular homes on the Bay Road site that provide a temporary place to stay while families seek permanent accommodation. Modular homes are prefabricated steel units with bedrooms, kitchen space, common areas and amenities.
For the Samaniegos, a family of four, who moved from their campervan to the three-bedroom modular home in April, gave them the much-needed space.
“We are very grateful … We have more space to cook and our own rooms. We are more at peace,” said Teresa Samaniego.
Her sons, high school students Edwin Samaniego and Jose Sameniego Jr., said moving into a house means they will have their own space to play video games and enjoy their mother’s home-cooked meals.
Modular Homes is a project of United Hope Builders, a non-profit organization that builds modular steel homes to help create affordable housing. Pastor Paul Bains, Founder / Chairman / CEO of WeHope and Chairman of United Hope Builders, said they plan to produce three to four modular homes each year.
Regarding the parking program, Bains said WeHope launched the RV Parking Program in partnership with the City of East Palo Alto to create a safe place for families. The program costs approximately $ 374,000 to run for the year.
Most of the people who live in RVs in the city are working families, Bains said, not people trying to cause trouble.
“People just needed a helping hand,” Bains said. “Most of the families are local families. They couldn’t afford to live in places because the rents kept going up. It made it almost impossible for them to live where they worked.
And during the pandemic, demand for their services has increased, Bains said. They had to add handwashing stations to adjust to the pandemic, as public toilets and libraries – places people needing access to water would normally go – were closed.
Bains, like Lara, stressed that the program is not a permanent place to stay for people, but a “staging” to get them out of the cycle of homelessness.
Residents of the secure parking program are required to attend classes – such as cooking, financial literacy, or anger management classes – and meet with case managers on a regular basis in order to stay in the park.
“We don’t believe love is love unless there is discipline in it. The programs create ramps for people to regain independence,” Bains said.
East Palo Alto was the first city in San Mateo County to create a secure parking program for RV residents, paving the way for other cities to do the same.
Redwood City launched its own program in October 2020. Their program can support around 40 motorhomes and is run by LifeMoves, a Silicon Valley nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions to homelessness. Palo Alto launched its own program earlier this year at a site on Geng Road near the Baylands.
LiveMoves vice president of programs and services Brian Greenberg said the creation of parking programs like the local programs is a response to increasing levels of homelessness over the past two years.
“Many cities have shown interest in creating safe parking programs,” Greenberg said. “East Palo Alto and Redwood City have been instrumental in establishing this and seeking not to push people into the next community, but to work with them in their own communities. “
Sociology researcher David Grusky, professor of sociology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, applauded programs like these.
But he said systemic change is needed to tackle inequalities in the country.
“We have to fight on two fronts,” said Grusky. “One of the fronts is to try to bring about a big systemic change, which would mean more redistribution, provide basic services to people who cannot afford them and repair our labor market institutions.”
Another way to reduce inequality is to create a labor market that gives workers more power to negotiate higher wages with employers, he said.
While Grusky said there is movement toward these systemic changes, programs like the Secure Motorhome Parking Program help “plug the holes” by directly helping those in need.
“We also have an obligation to try to resolve the problems that arise when these great systemic forces are not properly in place,” said Grusky. “You have to do what you have to do.”