Simi Valley City Council approves housing initiative for homeless living in cars

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A “Welcome to Simi Valley” sign sits off of Madera Rd. in Simi Valley, CA. on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Photo credit: David Chavez

By Aleea Evangelista

The Simi Valley City Council has unanimously approved the City Manager’s next step of forming a contract with a service provider for the Safe Park Pilot Program.

The program is unlike any other housing initiative in Simi Valley and the need for it in the community is timely. Due to California’s COVID-19 Stay at Home Orders and the approaching cold weather, this program will work to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Simi Valley’s unhoused individuals.

The Safe Park Pilot Program main’s objective is to “provide a location for homeless individuals with cars to sleep in a supervised location during the winter months.”

The program was developed in collaboration with Simi Valley’s homeless liaison police officers, who are familiar with the homeless individuals in the city.

Not only will the Safe Park Pilot program provide a parking place, security personnel and a bathroom trailer will support the needs of the participants.

The program would take place in the United Methodist Church’s parking lot from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Program participants would sleep overnight in their vehicle and must be out by 6 a.m. as the Church has morning activities.

Funding for the program would come from Simi Valley’s Local Housing Fund and the Simi Valley City Council approved the program’s budget request of $116,000.

Deputy City Manager Samantha Argabrite presented the Simi Valley City Council with a presentation of the program on Nov. 6.

“As the program is currently proposed, it is a place for individuals to park in the evening, have a restroom facility, there would not be any meal service provided at the facility,” said Argabrite.

The Safe Park Key Components include:

  • No more than 15 vehicles.
  • Pilot program Nov. 2020 – March 2021.
  • No impact to church patrons or activities.
  • Restroom trailer for participants’ use only.
  • Locked when not in use.
  • Participants maintain current insurance, registration and fully operational vehicle.
  • Participation is available to passenger vehicles only.
  • No recreational vehicles (RVs) or tents.
  • No guests at the Program location.
  • Participants shall sign the Code of Conduct.

The United Methodist Church agreed to partner with the City on the condition that the program’s participants adhere to the agreed upon code of conduct. One of the requirements of the code of conduct includes mandatory daily COVID-19 symptom screening and mask-wearing.

A slide during the City council meeting on Nov. 9, shows where the safe parking will take place.
A slide during the City council meeting on Nov. 9, shows where the safe parking will take place.

Simi Valley residents will also be given preference over residents outside of the community for participation in the program.

Argabrite reaffirmed that the Safe Park Pilot Program is prioritizing the needs of Simi Valley individuals.

Simi Valley City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos voiced her concerns with the program and worried that more of the logistics must be fully planned out.

“We’re saying that the people who are living in their cars have to make sure that their children are enrolled in school,” said Luevanos. “They’re attending school remotely on their Chromebooks, so you have to charge your Chromebook somewhere and we don’t even have a plan for that.”

Luevanos, also a member of the Simi Valley Task Force on Homelessness, originally motioned to table the further authorization of the program for the December City Council meeting.

Mayor Pro-Term Mike Judge expressed his concern to move forward with the program to accommodate the immediate needs of Simi Valley residents.

“This is one of the rare instances where [the] government should move forward quickly, get something done and help people,” said Judge.

More of the program’s logistics would be determined once an onsite program manager is determined.

Councilmember Elaine Litser discussed a close friend’s experience with homelessness and what this program means to her.

“I do think that it’s a good thing that we are considering a way to help our residents that are struggling this way,” said Litser.