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Churches to offer safe parking for RV dwellers

Mountain View looks to budding nonprofit to aid growing homeless population

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As more people are living out of their vehicles, Mountain View's residents have been caught in a bind between their sense of compassion and their comfort levels. Now the best outcome might be to move the problem off the streets.

For that goal, the city is looking to local do-gooders to help. In the coming weeks, a coalition of local churches will start testing out a "safe parking" program, opening up their facilities to overnight campers. This would mean families living out of their vehicles on the street could instead park in the church lots and use their restrooms. It's an idea that has gained traction among policymakers as a possible alternative to growing car encampments on city streets.

If all goes according to plan, a test pilot of the safe parking program should begin in April, said Pastor Brian Leong of the Lord's Grace Church in Mountain View. He and his partners recently launched a new nonprofit, Lots of Love, to provide insurance and management for the program.

"We want to alleviate as much as possible," he said. "It's not the end-all, be-all solution for the city, but we hope it makes a difference."

Numbers vary on how many people are currently living out of vehicles on Mountain View streets. The most recent survey conducted by local police officials in December counted 291 inhabited vehicles, more than half of which were large RVs and campers. These makeshift car camps are clustered in certain areas of the city, such as Crisanto Avenue near Rengstorff Park, Shoreline Boulevard and Continental Circle.

Leong and other Lots of Love participants say they realize their safe-parking program can help only a fraction of these vehicle campers, especially in the program's early days. For the pilot, he expects only three churches to participate, and each would take only four vehicles.

One of those churches will be St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. Speaking for the congregation, Rev. Lisa McIndoo said many members have been pushing for the church to get involved as a social justice issue. A couple years ago, about a dozen congregation members camped out overnight in the parking lot to better understand the homeless experience. Some have made it an annual sacrifice for Lent, she said.

The safe parking program had "overwhelming support" in the parish, McIndoo said.

"We're living in this very affluent part of the Bay Area, but then there's people around us that have significant housing issues," she said. "We want this to be a learning process for us to find out how we can be better servants of the community."

Leong and McIndoo both acknowledged the program is starting small, yet they believe the idea could quickly catch fire and inspire other churches to join once they can show it's working well. Already, about six other faith groups and property owners have expressed strong interest in opening up their parking lots for the program, Leong said.

Lots of Love plans to partner with the Community Services Agency by having outreach staff identify clients. As of right now, priority will be given to families with children, seniors and single women. No drugs, alcohol or weapons will be tolerated. Participants would also need to sign up for case management through the Community Services Agency, including joining a waiting list for permanent housing. Those participants must have a working vehicle, with valid registration, insurance and a driver's license.

It's likely that those requirements may exclude some of the city's homeless living in cars. Dozens of people living out of trailers actually don't own the vehicles, but rather are renting them from others. These "car landlords" typically don't hand over the ignition keys, leaving the renters unable to move the vehicles, Leong said.

Nevertheless, city officials see a lot of potential in the program -- in fact, the City Council voted last week to contribute $55,000 to help it start. Many involved in the Lots of Love pilot to a successful program in Santa Barbara as proof that the idea can significantly help the homeless.

Mayor Lenny Siegel said he hoped the city could eventually help bring more lots into the program, including the large city-owned parking lots near Shoreline Amphitheatre. That area wouldn't be available during the summer concert season, but it is mostly vacant during the cold weather months.

If Lots of Love can demonstrate that its safe-parking program is successful, then it has the potential to rapidly grow, Siegel said.

For now, the council has held off on ramping up police enforcement of people living out of their vehicles on the street, despite growing complaints about trash and crime. Siegel wants to refrain from harsher enforcement until the safe-parking program can accommodate the majority of car campers. He expects that to take at least a year.

"I see this as the first proof of concept to demonstrate we can create safe parking," Siegel said. "We can't do broad-brush enforcement without this."

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16 people like this
Posted by Charity
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2018 at 11:36 am

I hope the program is able to find ways to ensure the mentally ill are also helped to appropriate services. Because if not, it becomes inevitable that a mentally ill chronically homeless person will take advantage in ways that strain the program to breaking and ruin it for everyone else, as I have seen happen. We had a situation in which such a person ended up seriously abusing an elderly member of our church who was at first too embarrassed to say anything. The situation only happened because the elderly person believed the program did have similar criteria described here for this program. Church members are equipped to help people in need, not serious mentally ill and possibly manipulative people. If the churches can come to grips with that issue, they could be a real bridge to getting people in crisis and genuine need transformative help. If they do not come to grips with that issue, inevitably there will be some who destroy the program for everyone else.

7 people like this
Posted by @Charity
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 16, 2018 at 11:59 am

I think you need to start paying better attention during the sermons.

197 people like this
Posted by Sophie
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2018 at 12:04 pm

First of all, I applaud churchs are taking action and hope this is a sustainable solution for RV parking. On the other hand, I am afraid it will attract more RVs to Mountain View, and when all churchs’ parking lots are occupied, where else they are going to park? City council should work out a regulation, instead of relying charitable actions to manage RV issue. The current extended parking of RV on the street is violation of law and need to solve first.

102 people like this
Posted by Censoring
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 16, 2018 at 1:32 pm

Interesting. I make a comment that the moderators don’t like and now I’m not allowed to add comments? Nothing I’ve said had been against policy but I can’t comment?

65 people like this
Posted by Typical
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2018 at 2:30 pm

I can't believe the city is dumping this problem in the laps of local churches. Why can't city officials get their act together and solve this problem? They don't have this problem in other Bay Area cities. Why is it such an insurrmountable problem here? Assuming they WANT to solve it?

46 people like this
Posted by E.S.
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2018 at 3:16 pm

E.S. is a registered user.

The offer by churches to let their parking lots be used by RV dwellers is laudable. About six years ago there was a good deal of discussion on the subject in Palo Alto. One church's membership was all in favor of such a program but their neighbors were opposed. I urge faith communities who are considering offering their places to identify and take into account all the stakeholders. Then invite them to a meeting at your congregation and have an open conversation about the pros and cons of the situation, listening carefully to the stakeholders. You may want to have a professional facilitator help you plan and carry out your outreach and meetings.

77 people like this
Posted by Sylvan Park Resident
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 16, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Sylvan Park Resident is a registered user.

Interesting that the Los Altos Town Crier recently article... "Mtn. View continues outreach to RV dwellers" while Los Altos has three ordinances that restrict oversize vehicle parking. One ordinance bans overnight parking for RVs on any public street for more than 30 minutes between the hours of 7 p.m. on one day and 7 a.m. the next day. Web Link

So the problem and all the costs associated with it are pushed over the border. Are the churches in Los Altos allocating space for RV Dwellers?

13 people like this
Posted by dont go away mad
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2018 at 4:18 pm

dont go away mad is a registered user.

It’s a start in the right direction. Thanks to all the churches involved.

9 people like this
Posted by Doug
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2018 at 4:27 pm

Well its great to see that some churches are assisting these people in need. I did not see St. Joseph's name on the list of churches that are contributing towards the betterment of the homeless, or people living in their cars or campers. The CFO of the San Jose diocese, told me 2 years ago,that the reason they decided to lease the property to a developer(I believe it was for 50 yrs) was to pay off a debt they had for a retrofit back in the late 90's, to fix the bathroom and elevator in the bell tower, and to assist St.Josephs school. Whatever your thoughts are about the decision, the fact of the matter is, that we all know that the monthly lease payments that will be coming to the church via the developer will be sizable. Once this project is completed(was told August 2018), the diocese should commit to assisting these people, and offering solutions to a major problem in our community. This commitment should also assist their loyal Latino parishioners, as well as the Day Workers Center. I can only speculate how much the diocese will receive each month, but I am assuming that they could have a huge impact on these issues for many years to come. The Pastors are getting new housing, so please step up, and lets see this money go back into the community. I'm sure Pope Francis would want the diocese to help out.

66 people like this
Posted by Charity
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2018 at 4:56 pm

I’m not sure I understand the motivation behind your comment, but loving and caring for people can in fact include being sure they get help that is appropriate to meet their needs. If someone is mentally ill and church members are not equipped to handle serious personality disorders and schizophrenia, they are helping far more if they get that person the mental healthcare they need with people who are equipped to help. That’s the loving thing to do. Furthermore, they are helping the others in the program by ensuring the church members are not overwhelmed by people they cannot help anyway, but instead can focus their efforts on helping those they can help. The elder abuse that happened to a seriously disabled, elderly member of our church would not have hapoened if we had been more clear about the best way to help everyone.

Have you heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?” That’s because good intentions are not enough. If you make your charity just about your good intentions and not about what will actually help people, then it is about you, not about the people you purport to help, and I hope I don’t have to point out the many warnings about not doing that in those sermons you allude to.

The Good Samaritan bent over backwards to help the man, but not to the extent of becoming a doormat which would have helped no one. Loving your neighbor as yourself can mean sacrificial giving, but it’s not really charity if you are doing it essentially for yourself without any real intent to actually help others. Think about how often you take your own family’s money and flush it down the toilet instead of paying for their shelter and needs. Why would you have a double standard for upyour neighbor?

73 people like this
Posted by Doug
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2018 at 6:22 pm

Not sure what Sermons have to do with what is being discussed here.

5 people like this
Posted by Charity
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2018 at 7:11 pm

I can’t speak for @Charity, but churches are presumably motivated by what is in their faith and scriptures. Contrary to what you might think by listening to the media and the cultural Christians who identify with Christianity in a kind of tribal way and don’t really follow the teachings of Jesus, i.e., seem to worship neoconservative politics above anything else*, the Bible tells a story of great sacrifice to love and serve others. There is no test of how lovable your neighbor is for loving your neighbor. Jesus said if someone strikes you to turn the other cheek. He said there are only two commandments, to love God, and treat others as well as we do ourselves. He said that whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Him.

Presuming the best intention in @Charity’s comment, I am assuming that is what it had to do with sermons. This is a real crisis for Christians, to know how to love people as we ar directed and yet not be destroyed by it without ever helping if we are too naive about it. What I repeated to @Charity was what our new minister said when faced with the loss of a program we had been invokved with for many years because of the abuse I mentioned.

*The faith espoused by these tribal Christians is more to serve political expediency and sometimes has little to do with the Bible. The Bible exhorts believers to treat immigrant aliens as honored guests, to treat them well, hence the long involvement of many churches as sanctuaries, and the irony of rightwing evangelical political stance on immigration. There is not one word in the New or Old Testament about or against lesbians, but Jesus does speak against divorce (I have never heard any wedding cake makers turn down someone previously married, yet inexplicably won’t serve lesbians as against their faith. Even if they did believe that, if they were at all familiar with the Bible, they should think about the example of Jesus who would have clearly treated people lovingly and generously.) The New Testament says a lot against avarice and the danger of wealth: “For the love of money is the root of all evil”. Ironically, it also speaks against people too willing to proclaim their faith too publicly, it exhorts humility in our faith. At one point Jesus responds to a question of how to follow Him: Give all your worldly possessions to feed the poor, take up your cross, and follow me. So there is this huge thread in the faith of sacrificial giving and caring about the poor and social justice. But it has been, in the history of Christianity, been equated with martyrdom.

This is really a very big discussion, because there is just so much in the Bible about love and sacrificial giving, and so much history of Chrisians wrestling with that in the real world. That’s why they want to help, Jesus literally said how we treat the poor is as if we are doing those things to Him. I can understand why someone who was only familiar with the corrupted “witness” of political evangelicals would not know about that.

34 people like this
Posted by David H.
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 16, 2018 at 9:18 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

168 people like this
Posted by Not really
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2018 at 11:48 pm

@ Sylvan Park Resident: "So the problem and all the costs associated with it are pushed over the border. Are the churches in Los Altos allocating space for RV Dwellers?"

Mountain View has created a huge problem for themselves by not enforcing their own ordinances re permanent overnight parking of RVs and campers. Los Altos is not "pushing a problem over the border". It's simply acting responsibly to protect their residential neighborhoods by not creating a problem for themselves. If MV doesn't want the problem then they should pass and enforce laws. Right now, by welcoming car dwellers with open arms, they're inviting more to come to their city. A choice that MV is making. If you don't like it then vote for better city council members next time around.

18 people like this
Posted by Humble observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2018 at 1:40 am

"Not really / a resident of another community" [Los Altos??] actually claimed 'Los Altos is not "pushing a problem over the border".'

Yet that's the inescapable effect of the Los Altos ordinances described. "Not really" also failed to answer the question "Are the churches in Los Altos allocating space for RV Dwellers?" There's more: Observers of Mountain View's recent City-Council meeting on the subject heard a young man avowedly from Los Altos, who 'said "Mountain View should take in ALL RVs no matter where they're from." When asked what Los Altos was doing about it, he said, "I don't know."' Thus has Los Altos spoken, for the record.

Comments like that make an impression far more powerful than any sort of defensive rhetoric about them. That Young Man From Los Altos may be quoted for decades.

8 people like this
Posted by Charity
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2018 at 10:58 am

@David H.
Would you have the same objection if you knew for sure the families being helped were in a short-term life crisis, not drug-dealing, mentally-ill chronic homeless? Those are two very different faces of homelessness. The point I was making before is that church volunteers are mostly set up to help only the former, which is important that they do. But when the two kinds of populations get put together, then no one gets help, it threatens programs’ existence, and it puts a burden on neighbors like you who did not sign up for it.

The key is how well they are equipped to identify those who need the short-term services and get the mentally ill to other more appropriate services. If you think that won’t work - and given my own experience above, I think the concerns have to be honored - what are some possible alternatives? I personally think solutions need to happen much more upstream, in economic policy, etc, but this does not mean Christians should do nothing to help immediate suffering. I don’t know the answer, I wish I did.

5 people like this
Posted by @David H
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 17, 2018 at 12:18 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

32 people like this
Posted by David H
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 17, 2018 at 3:49 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

5 people like this
Posted by @David H
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 17, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Have you tried actually talking to the people in our community that live in their vehicles? It might open up your perspective on the lives of those less fortunate than yourself.

3 people like this
Posted by Alice Larse
a resident of Gemello
on Mar 17, 2018 at 9:10 pm

This is an excellent temporary help to a housing problem. Community Services Agency, in the past did a good job of screening residents/guests, for a multi Mountain View, Los Altos rotating church shelter called the Alpha Omega program. I feel confident CSA will, with the help of the Mountain View police department that has already done some screening be able to get this program off to a good start. Churches that have an all day school, like St Simon's, probably have some legal restrictions that would not allow them to be a part of this program so let's not cast disparaging remarks when we don't know what is involved. A hearty thanks to CSA which is an outstanding guiding light in the community.

10 people like this
Posted by @Alice Larse
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2018 at 10:22 pm

@Alice Larse is a registered user.

St. Timothy's also has a preschool that operates M-F, 9-3. Why don't they have legal restrictions?

42 people like this
Posted by CA Native
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 18, 2018 at 8:58 am

CA Native is a registered user.

So is the City Council rezoning all church property to allow them to have multiple, unrelated families on site? Or maybe rezoned as RV Parks? Or maybe rezoned as "camp sites"?

While a laudable goal, one has to wonder how "temporary" the stays will be, and if the people living in the vehicles will be given timelines to move, or just move from church parking lot to church parking lot.

Yes, I understand not everyone wants to be where they are and are trying to get out of the cycle, but where is he plan to make sure that those looking for a hand-up are the ones being helped? As opposed to those just looking for a free hand-out.

203 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 18, 2018 at 10:25 am

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

This is just a feel good bandaid for not solving a problem. 3 churches taking 4 RVs each....that's 12 coming off the streets. TWELVE. Which likely will open up for twelve more to come in. And Mayor Siegal wants to give this epic plan a YEAR to see how well it works. Another year of sitting on it, not really doing anything and letting the situation get even worse.

This is not a solution. This is not even the beginning of one. If you want to claim this is a good start then you also have to support additional means of tracking and monitoring these vehicles, making some sort of accountability. And then start wither enforcing the laws that are on the books or make some real and serious planning to accommodate these vehicles in a safe and reasonable manor.

165 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 18, 2018 at 3:23 pm

I have spent years amongst people, primarily men, just like those that occupy the majority of those vehicles and so called RV's. In all reality, though sad, the adage of give an inch and they'll take a mile is very true in this case. Mountain View has become a freebie and the amount of vehicles coming into the city will become an exodus as word continues to get around and their numbers will increase exponentially; just wait and see. If you think it is a mess now just wait and see, and the prospect of using church space is a very bad idea since security is low, and the prospects of people setting up a general homeless encampment is a great reality. And the populace is just plain ignorant if they think that there is not alcohol and drug use occurring daily in many of the vehicles. It should have been nipped in the bud a long time ago. Existing laws must be inforced with additional tough restrictions to be voted in to keep this from ever happening again.

13 people like this
Posted by True
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 21, 2018 at 1:24 pm

True is a registered user.

Has the city conducted a survey to determine how many RV dwellers are truly homeless and how many just live out of the area and use the RV for mid-week lodging?

I've known a number of people over the years (tech workers and construction trades alike) in the Valley who've commuted in on Monday, slept in an RV Tues-Thurs and driven home on Friday.

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