News

Lots of Love gets off to a slow start

Local churches open up for homeless safe parking program

Up until recently, Jane Williams' home has been the parking lot of an office complex off Old Middlefield Road. After a day of running packages for a delivery startup, the Mountain View native would park her minivan in the back of the lot to settle down for the night. She'd been living this way ever since losing her apartment in a bad breakup.

It wasn't a great lifestyle, but there were some benefits, she said. As a 55-year-old woman, Williams felt much safer staying in an enclosed parking lot than on the street. Plus, she became caretaker for some feral cats, and feeding them every day gave her a renewed sense of purpose.

"I can handle roughing it, but it's really getting old. I know I would do much better in an apartment," she said. "I always wanted a home in this area, but it's become an unrealistic goal."

Naturally, her decision to camp out at the office lot has miffed some of the neighbors. One business tenant has repeatedly called the police on her, particularly when she used the office's restroom. After the latest encounter, a policeman suggested Williams look into a new city program designed to help get homeless people off the streets. She signed up, participated in an interview and was told she would be a perfect fit for the program.

For one week now, Williams has been among of a small number of homeless residents who bring their vehicles each night to the rear parking lot of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Grant Road. This sanctuary for the homeless is the first testing grounds for larger plans to create "safe parking" locations throughout Mountain View, providing a viable alternative for people living on the streets. For participants like Williams, it offers many of the amenities that she had sought: open restrooms, garbage service and a sense of security.

The idea has been a long time coming. The safe parking program was first proposed in 2015, when Mountain View's rising homeless population was becoming a growing concern. Since then, the number of homeless people living out of cars in the city has more than doubled, and pressure has mounted on local leaders to do something about it.

A safe parking program was always viewed as a short-term answer, but getting it off the ground was much more complicated than expected, said Brian Leong, a pastor at Lord's Grace Church who helped spearhead the plan. Launching a nonprofit, getting insurance and figuring out parameters all ended up taking longer than anticipated, he said.

After months of delays, the new nonprofit Lots of Love officially started on June 15, but the program had zero participants for its first couple of weeks. Organizers couldn't immediately find homeless individuals who wanted to relocate, and the lot at St. Timothy's remained empty despite the congregation's willingness to help.

In part, that was due to the screening criteria laid out by Lots of Love. Priority is given to women, families and seniors, and the program explicitly bans drugs, alcohol or weapons. Participants must also have a working vehicle with valid registration, insurance and a driver's license. Any applicant also has to be signed up with the Community Services Agency to eventually get permanent housing.

As of this week, the safe parking program has taken in just three families, including a couple and a mother and child. A second church, Lord's Grace Christian Church on San Antonio Road, has opened to participate in the program, but no clients have reportedly been placed there yet.

Lots of Love leaders had initially hoped several churches would be ready to pitch in, with each taking in a few cars. But while many churches were initially eager to help, they expressed doubts as the program was ready to launch.

In particular, Lots of Love organizers received a harsh lesson in how resistant nearby residents could be when they tried to introduce safe parking at the Highway Community Church on Miramonte Avenue. At a June community discussion at the church, about 50 neighbors fiercely protested the idea, some warning they would fight the church tooth and nail if they took in the homeless.

The neighbors were "spitting mad," alleging the city's homeless problem was linked to recent crimes in the area, said Dave Arnone, a Lots of Love board member who attended the meeting.

"It was a lot of ugly accusations toward the pastor and the church," he said. "The poor pastor had to swallow this all for an hour and a half. He was extended no grace: they were threatening to sue the church out of existence."

By the end of the meeting, Highway Community pastor John Riemenschnitter relented, telling the crowd that his church would no longer participate in the program.

This episode demonstrated that the safe parking program has its work cut out, and that it needs to counter the worst kinds of perceptions of the homeless, said Amber Stime, Lots of Love program coordinator. So far, every client who has signed up for Mountain View's safe parking program is employed, despite living out of their vehicles, she said. Stime emphasized that each individual in the safe parking program is screened before being placed. She also pointed out that for any issues that arise, Lots of Love has a 24-hour-a day hotline, and staff members who monitor the parking areas.

Mountain View residents need to understand that many of the homeless aren't destitute drug addicts, but rather workers who still can't afford housing, she said.

"The contrast here is overwhelming for me. Here, you have people living out of a church parking lot and next door you have several million-dollar homes with four to five cars," she said. "There's something so surreal about the poverty here, because this is such an affluent area."

Lots of Love is trying to model itself after a similar program in Santa Barbara that has operated since 2004. In that program, the homeless clients living in church parking lots eventually acted like custodians for the property, Arnone said. Because it was their home, they took initiative to monitor the community and report any problems.

"They become the eyes and ears in the neighborhood," Arnone said. "Would you rather have people you know in your parking lot, or people you don't know on the curb?"

A pilot of the safe parking program is expected to finish in October. After that, Lots of Love has enough funding to continue for at least two years, thanks to grants from the city of Mountain View and Santa Clara County.

While progress on the safe parking program has been slow in Mountain View, the idea is being implemented in other areas. Last month, East Palo Alto officials started a similar pilot program using city land to allow up to 20 vehicles to temporarily park.

Arriving back at the church, Williams was hanging out near her minivan, exhausted after a day of work. Earlier, she had spilled a soda on the floor of her car, and she fussed over how to best remove the sticky residue.

Despite being a chatty person, she still hadn't gotten a chance to meet the other individuals sleeping out of their vehicles at the parking lot. They worked late-night shifts and didn't return until past midnight, she said. It felt a little creepy being in the unfamiliar parking lot all alone at night, she said. The next evening, St. Timothy's Church was holding a potluck, and she hoped to use the opportunity to meet some of the congregation.

Williams complained about a new ache in her side, and she suspected she had injured herself by hoisting a package the wrong way. She had fashioned a makeshift weight belt that she wore around her waist to help alleviate the pain, but she wondered if she should visit the hospital. Getting into a home would be good for her health, she said.

Earlier in the day, Williams had met with staff at MidPen Housing, and they finished her application to get into some kind of affordable housing. It felt like her life was coming back together, but it wouldn't be easy, she said. Williams said that she will need to repay back taxes, student loans and other debts.

"You know that saying, 'you make plans and then life happens'? This time, I want to sit down and do it right," she said. "I'm getting too old to keep doing this."

Comments

105 people like this
Posted by We need LAWS!!!
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2018 at 2:51 pm

This reminds me of days when cities would respond to complaints of all the off leash dogs and created dog parks that nobody used as they continued to break the laws of those times.
We need some basic laws about people living on our streets. You can't do it in a tent but you can in a car? C'mon!


81 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 9, 2018 at 4:07 pm

I love Mountain View! It's nice to know that if I ever decided to stop paying rent, I can live in my car and city and all its tax paying citizens will support me!

I'd also like to know, of all those living in cars and RV's, how many previously rented or owned a home in MV.

I'm sure there are plenty that are driving over here because of all the services the city offers and that no one here gives them the boot.


144 people like this
Posted by DSA/DNC
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2018 at 4:45 pm

MV has laws, MVPD has their hands tied by city council. They can't enforce RV 72 hour RV parking violations with a piece of chalk. The RV dwellers are too smart, they can wipe off the chalk.

MVPD has 1 part-time employee that handles abandoned vehicles (RV's not included). Police are waiting for direction from council. Overnight parking restrictions would work with an increased budget for towing. Or, figure out a way to ticket 72 hour parking violators. Obviously pretty simple, but without budget and direction from council it's a non-starter.

Turns out to tow a RV, a specialty towing company needs to be called and they want their money up front, before the tow. The cost is up to $3500.00 or more.

City won't increase budget for towing. Optics look bad, hurts their chance for re-election. Renters and RV dwellers are their base support. Case of tail wagging the dog.

“The strongest argument for socialism is that it sounds good. The strongest argument against socialism is that it doesn't work. But those who live by words will always have a soft spot in their hearts for socialism because it sounds so good.”








157 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 9, 2018 at 5:55 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

These support programs only work, if we have a policy for RV parking on public streets. The fact that nobody wants to move to the church parking lots is a good indication that our attempt to get these RV's off the public streets and the people (the homeless as they are called in our MV statistic) into support programs and eventually into housing is not working. These homeless people are not interested in a safe parking lot with support services. In San Diego vehicle dwellers do not have a choice. You get ticketed if you sleep on public streets, so you are forced to join everybody in the safe lots and the program has great success in getting everybody help. The other point that has been made over and over: the majority of RV dwellers is not really homeless, they live here during the week and go home on the weekends. They save money, by not staying in a hotel. And if the requirement to have a valid registration is keeping them from joining the Lots of Love program then they really shouldn't be parked on any MV street. I am hoping that this is one code still enforced in this city. I had great hopes for this program, but without any policies for sleeping in cars on public streets it won't have any effect on our homeless issue.


37 people like this
Posted by Bleeding Heart
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 9, 2018 at 6:14 pm

A big thank you to the participating churches. You rock! Shame on the mean-spirited people of Miramonte who would not even give it a try.

Now that this program is up and running all other overnight vehicles need to be given notice to participate in the program or leave Mountain View.

Once again thank you to Lots of Love and the participating churches.


16 people like this
Posted by Mt View resident
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 10, 2018 at 12:41 am

I think folks commenting are mixing up the issues. It does not sound like lots of love is attempting to take on the RV issue, but rather working folks living in a CAR. I don’t believe they are trying to place RVs in these church parking lots, at least from what I can tell.

I realize it’s a bigger issue, but at least they are trying to do something, all I see here is “not in my city” which I think is a shame. I can’t believe neighbors would threaten to,sue the church for having a fully screen and vetted person trying to get back on their feet sleeping in a car or two parking in their lot at night...what have we become? I wish folks would show some grace and allow The Highway Community to do what churches are suppose to do, help people.


8 people like this
Posted by Sophie
a resident of another community
on Aug 10, 2018 at 7:22 am

In my neighborhood, 72hour parking rule is enforced by neighborhood watch effectively and efficiently. It clears away disputes and parking chaos in the area so far. I assume police officers are legal authority enabled to enforce laws under any conditions. If they can chose which law to enforce, can people chose which law to follow?


37 people like this
Posted by Need action now
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 10, 2018 at 10:14 am

@Polomom hit it right on. This is a case of you can't have one without the other. People cite the success stories of San Diego and Santa Barbara's programs but look closer and you will see that they have clear ordinances in place that address vehicular dwelling/oversized vehicles on streets:

Web Link
Web Link

On 3/6/18 it was disappointing that our council had voted NOT to implement interim measures to curb the growing problem until these programs are proven effective. I for one am voting for new council members that understand a balance is needed and not get emotionally myopic about "criminalizing homelessness" or "moving problems around".


39 people like this
Posted by Our Council is deaf to residents
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2018 at 10:34 am

Or they are cowards who are afraid of doing the sometimes tough job they asked voters to allow them to do. They have done nothing. Not one single thing.

Who among them has the guts to begin the discussion and craft an ordinance?
Who among them is listening to the overwhelmingly loud voices of so so many residents? Who among them is not a do nothing politician?
Anyone?
HELLO?!?!


61 people like this
Posted by Vote out Pat and Lenny!!
a resident of Bailey Park
on Aug 10, 2018 at 11:24 am

Please use November to vote out Leneord Siegal and Patricia Showalter!! They support people Living in their cars. Neither went on a police sit-along Prior to their march 6 vote regarding RVs! Both are out of touch and Lenny is in the wrong city. John inks is for restrictions on these RVs! Let’s save our city before it’s too late. Asking our police force to deal with this huge issue without proper ordinances is a complete joke. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them to balance appeasing counsel and helping the community that wants something done.


12 people like this
Posted by Nora S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 10, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I am proud to live in a city that has a compassionate and practical approach to homelessness, rather than the much more common knee-jerk response that many commenters here advocate (kick 'em out!). There are several RVs parked on my block, and they are just as clean, neat, and trouble-free as the bricks-and-mortar houses. We need the people who are living in these vehicles: they are here because they have jobs! Many if not most jobs in MV do not pay enough to cover sky-high rents. Do we really want to exclude everyone who makes less than $100,000 a year? I don't think so! If this nonprofit can provide services such as safe parking to those who need them, I think that's fantastic. Kudos to all involved.


31 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 10, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

Nora, living in cars or RV's is not a solution for housing people. I am sure we can all agree that it would be better to have these individuals in a real house with plumbing and electricity. Having a centralized Lots of Love program will give our services an opportunity to contact these people, point them to the right organizations, take care of their basic needs and on top of all this remove the opportunistic RV dwellers that are just here because it is free and nobody bothers them. Nobody wants to kick them out, but if the city is putting aside over $ 300 K, offers sewer dump services and now supports local churches with the Lots of Love program it is time for these RV dwellers to also show some goodwill and respond to these programs. The failure of the sewer dump program ( not enough sign ups) was a first indication that we are dealing with people who do not want to be helped. So the question is now: Do we just let everybody do what they feel like, you can live on public streets anywhere you want? Maybe mobile homes are next, Shoreline Blvd has a wide enough parking strip/bike lanes.


72 people like this
Posted by MVWoman
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 10, 2018 at 3:49 pm

MVWoman is a registered user.

Nora, are you aware that many, if not MOST, of these RV dwellers have NEVER been Mountain View residents, nor do they work in our city? They come from other cities (and even other states) because the word is out that Mountain View taxpayers are picking up the tab. We cannot be responsible for carrying the load for cities that are happy to push this cost onto us. There are even out of town contractors who tow junk RVs onto our streets for their employees to live free during the week. Several of these contractors are based in the East Bay and are delighted to push this problem onto us.
I believe - most people are VERY WILLING to help local families with children, the elderly and the disabled to find job and/or housing assistance. However, not all RV dwellers are “needy”. One outrageous example is the engineer making $175k but parks his RV (and undoubtedly also an auto) in Mountain View for whom WE TAXPAYERS are paying to have his sewage dumped, clean his street area, give him water and power, and have 90% of our police presence at the RV dweller sites. The fact that he states he showers at work and eats there, does nothing to diminish the taxpayer money that is spent on him. Do you REALLY think we taxpayers want to do this for him and others like him? I am also NOT interested in helping those who are criminals (theft rings, prostitution, drug rings and child molesters as reported by the local police) nor am I interested in helping those who refuse to help themselves (the man who says he can get a job but would rather spend time with his grandchildren).
The very few families with children who live in these 400+ RVs (I understand there are only 11 or 12 children total in these RVs) and were Mountain View residents should be the ones we help first. Their children don't deserve living in these conditions, and Lots of Love is prepared to assist them. The criminal element, and the other types of scammers, will be the ones resisting help. They'd rather live free and have Mountain View pick up their expenses - and they should be gone.
I'm glad the RVs on your street are clean and orderly, but do you really believe that's the majority of the 400+ on our streets? Is that a good way to live? There are services to help these people, if they cooperate.
The complaints on this forum run from obvious crimes, trash on the streets, blocking sidewalks, sewage dumping in our drains, to stealing water from private home hoses, etc. More RVs will mean more disturbances and trouble - and will do nothing to make it better for the legitimate RV dwellers.
The police have their hands tied by a majority of this Council being too cowardly to do anything. (The exceptions are Lisa Matichak and Margaret Abe-Koga.) Now that there is screening to weed out scammers, and there is help available through Lots of Love and Community Services Agency, Mountain View needs to pass a regulation that prohibits any vehicle over 6' high on city streets.


32 people like this
Posted by Lots of Love? TOUGH LOVE
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 10, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Lots of Love? TOUGH LOVE is a registered user.

Interesting that the criteria is off-putting to those living on the streets...
"program explicitly bans drugs, alcohol or weapons. Participants must also have a working vehicle with valid registration, insurance and a driver's license. Any applicant also has to be signed up with the Community Services Agency to eventually get permanent housing."

If RV owners are uninsured/unregistered they need to be towed. If they are insured/licensed etc, and they refuse the option at this church, they should be ticketed with notice they will be towed This is a great program for people in need, the City should not be known as a destination for RV dwellers who flout the law with no consequences. Lots of Love....TOUGH LOVE.


13 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 10, 2018 at 5:50 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

I have seen no specific evidence that "MVWoman" is using facts and not just her own local observations. If we expect to employ people at wages that do not support them living anywhere nearby, how do we expect them to afford remote housing and commuting? If a person loses their apartment, how do we expect them to qualify for a new job and new housing in another City? Since Palo Alto also has an RV problem, I question whether a large number are actually coming from out of state. That is different than evading our fees by being registered out of state. Let's give the program a chance to work. We should also remember that unless one's rent or mortgage is paid off or paid in advance: "There but for the Grace of God...".


58 people like this
Posted by Lots of Love? TOUGH LOVE
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 13, 2018 at 2:32 pm

Lots of Love? TOUGH LOVE is a registered user.

CORRECTION - when I posted earlier comment so had no idea 'Lots of Love' did NOT address RV dwellers, just those living in cars.

With that said, as a first step City of MV needs to establish similar criteria to 'Lots of Love program', if RV dwellers refuse to register with CSA, cannot present valid license, insurance/registration, cannot identify themselves as displaced Mountain View residents and refuse to cooperate with police and social workers they need to move on. I have been told many of them refuse to engage, so we have no idea who is living in these RV's, how many have criminal records, number of children and those with substance abuse issues. If they refused to engage, they need to go...


43 people like this
Posted by MVWoman
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 13, 2018 at 11:15 pm

MVWoman is a registered user.

Old Steve, if you read the several articles on this subject over the last year, talked to any MV Policeman or even attended the League of Women Voters forum on this topic, you'd be aware that I am stating known facts.

You also misinterpreted my appreciation of this Lots of Love program. I am in FAVOR of it, and encourage all to take part. However, it requires screening (which makes a great deal of sense) and the criminal element is not interested in meeting the criteria. Those few legitimate prior renters/homeowners in Mountain View deserve our help, but they have to do their part as well. The non-locals who come here just to scam the taxpayers, those who can afford housing but would rather have MV taxpayers support them on the street, the criminal element who would never pass a screening, etc. should move along. Our tax money would be better spent on those prior MV renters/homeowners who have lost their home here through no fault of their own.

That said, I agree that we all cannot have what we want just because we want it. There is only so much housing available, and yes, the cost does go up and also becomes out of reach for those in low paying jobs. I'd like to see a lot more companies move to the Valley, where housing is cheaper and more land available. Then perhaps workers could get decent jobs and they could actually afford a stable home for themselves and their families. No city can built out until the price is low enough for everyone who wants to live in that city. It is a nice idea - but economically and physically impossible. Demanding the impossible only delays any progress that could be made for the betterment of those suffering now.


3 people like this
Posted by Randy Guelph
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 14, 2018 at 10:23 am

Randy Guelph is a registered user.

MVWoman, I was at the League of Women Voters event. As I remember it, the audience was asked whether they wanted to devote more resources to helping vehicle dwellers or whether they wanted stricter enforcement. Overwhelmingly the audience was in favor of more resources.

I also remember a particularly hateful woman asking about whether the people living in vehicles were former residents or not...


2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 14, 2018 at 10:43 am

Old Steve is a registered user.

The problem with relocating companies to the Central Valley has several facets, so I will stick to just one: Our Central Valley helps feed the world, so we should pave it over instead of building more dense housing here?? Sarc


Like this comment
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 17, 2018 at 1:18 pm

SRB is a registered user.

@Mountain View Voice - Was the City represented (Council Members, Administration...) at the Highway Community Church meeting in June? If so, were they supporting/defending that program?


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