Safe Parking Network Pilot Program/Safe Parking – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is Safe Parking?
Safe Parking is a program where people who are living in their vehicles become temporary guests of an organization that has a parking lot. The organization provides an assigned parking place and access to basic sanitation (toilet/porta-potty, handwashing station, trash receptacle) and a secure place to park. Other amenities may be offered but are not required. The organization and each guest agrees to written behavioral expectations which include “good neighbor” behaviors.
What is the Tacoma/Pierce County Safe Parking Network Pilot Program (SPNPP)?
Funded by a grant from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Safe Parking Network Pilot Program (SPNPP) is an effort to identify and support faith-based and other organizations to become Safe Parking locations. During the pilot program duration (currently through April 30, 2021) grant money can cover the expenses of setting up and operating a SPNPP location: porta-potty, handwashing station, extra trash removal if needed. The grant will also cover striping parking spaces, signage, and other measures that will help limit access to the parking lot by those who are not approved guests.
SPNPP staff will assist with managing the sites, including setup, background checks on potential guests, intake interviews of potential guests, and connecting guests with required social services among other supportive tasks. The goal of the SPNPP is to provide guests a safe place to sleep and stabilize while SPNPP staff quickly get them connected to services and assistance and help them with the transition into stable housing situations.
Why participate in the Tacoma/Pierce County Safe Parking Network Pilot Program?
Historically TUUC has experienced use of our grounds for toileting, trash dumping, and other activities that impact our space negatively. This activity has increased since we have not been in the building with any regularity since March 2020, despite exterior security cameras that Church Administrator Libby Ball monitors remotely. The Social Justice Committee pointed out to the Board of Trustees that fencing the protected alcoves did not reflect our principles or our statement that we are a welcoming congregation. (Additionally, fencing even the alcove areas would cost around $15,000.) Agreeing, the BOT identified an Ad Hoc Committee on Building and Grounds Security in Fall 2020. The Ad Hoc Committee determined some landscaping options that will limit privacy, consulted with an architect who reviewed a modification that could help (and will be costly), met several times to clean up the grounds so the building looks more cared for, and extensively investigated Safe Parking after learning of the SPNPP.
The Ad Hoc Committee has been meeting weekly to share information and learnings from SPNPP weekly meetings, site visits to two Safe Parking locations (Lake Shore United Methodist Church in Kirkland WA and Edmonds UU Congregation in Edmonds WA) and extensive interviews with the coordinators of those programs, and two seminal manuals on Safe Parking. Safe Parking reflects our values and has proven to enhance the safety of the parking lots hosting guests. Our guests would not be responsible for making the grounds safe, but their presence on site and their investment in having a safe place to park will tend to significantly improve the safety of the parking lot and the neighborhood.
The Ad Hoc Committee has shared their learnings with the congregation during two Zoom meetings following worship services, and with several articles in the ENews.
What is TUUC’s role?
TUUC will offer Safe Parking with basic amenities. We will provide a liaison(s) [dedicated contact person(s)] who will assist with communication between the guests and SPNPP staff. TUUC will also provide and organize volunteers who are willing to help make guests welcome. There is already a team working on developing the parameters of the program such as: how many vehicles we will host; who we will host (families, couples, singles, LGBTQIA+, etc); hours they may park; and any amenities we might provide beyond the basics. This team is working under the umbrella of the Social Justice Committee in the area of housing insecurity and it is organizing now so we can move forward as quickly as possible should the consensus of the congregation be to move forward to participate in SPNPP.
What would be the scope of the TUUC program?
SPN staff recommends that we start with 3-5 cars and the team working on the parameters of the program concurs. That team is currently working on hours cars are permitted to park, mandated quiet hours, and other parameters. The goal is to start small and simple. (See answer above.)
What are TUUC’s responsibilities?
During the SPNPP, the SPN staff is the “on the ground”oversight group responsible for monitoring/managing the site. They will handle the paperwork (intake and screening), visit the site regularly, and will help monitor compliance/enforcement of the behavior expectations that guests will agree to with their signature. In partnership with the TUUC liaison(s), the SPN staff will reinforce the Security Plan with guests: who to call when a problem surfaces. For instance, if the situation requires Police intervention, they would call the police (911). The Tacoma Police department has pledged full support of this program and has committed to respond as needed and do periodic drive-bys for visual observations. During daytime hours, if the given situation does not need police intervention, the guest has a contact name and phone number for Safe Parking Network staff to discuss the issue. The TUUC liaison will be another point of contact for guests during daytime hours and will support communication between TUUC, guests and SPN staff. If any concerns arise about a guest, the TUUC liaison will contact SPN who would then take the appropriate action.
What is TUUC’s time commitment?
We are committed to provide safe parking to our guests until the end of the Pilot Program (April 30, 2021). The operational team will be monitoring congregational, neighborhood and guest feedback to determine if the program is working for all concerned. We will have the option of continuing the program past April 30, 2021 if the congregation agrees that the program benefits TUUC, our guests and the neighborhood. The SPNPP staff will help with the transition which may require additional volunteers and funding. The services provided by local non-profits and service agencies will continue.
What is TUUC’s financial commitment?
Costs of the program will be covered by the grant until April 30, 2021. This will include a porta potty and a handwashing station that we will continue to have on site free of charge if we continue participation past April 30, 2021. If we continue as part of the SPN after April 30, we may incur the following monthly costs:
Porta potty service (emptied weekly, wash out, restock): $131
Handwashing station supplies (including paper towels, handsoap, etc.) $80
Additional garbage collection (if needed): $60 (60 gal.)/$82 (90 gal.)
We know that there is not a line item in the FY21 budget to support any housing insecurity programs. We also know that there is political will and community support in Tacoma and Pierce County to fund programs that support the housing insecure. Safe Parking is considered a cost effective intervention to help those living in their cars find and move into secure housing. Additional grant money may be available from Metropolitan Development Council (MDC) for Safe Parking and other funding sources will be explored.
What about liability?
Liability insurance is a requirement for participation in the SPNPP. Libby Ball, TUUC Administrator, is working with the TUUC insurance company on the liability certificate for the program. There is no or minimal charge for this.
Does TUUC need additional security as a SPNPP host site?
TUUC has security cameras that cover the parking lot. We have added removable plastic chains across the parking lot entrances to deter unauthorized vehicles from entering the parking lot. We have developed a contact plan to generate appropriate response to situations that might arise. SPNPP has full support of the Tacoma police who already have an excellent relationship with TUUC. SPN Coordinator Colin DeForrest has visited TUUC to evaluate the security and has deemed it appropriate.
What legislation supports Safe Parking?
The right of a faith community to host a Safe Parking site on their property is supported by Federal legislation, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Peoples Act (RLUIPA), and by state legislation, House Bill 1754 . Essentially, these support religious institutions to host activity on their property that reflects their mission as long as that activity meets specific criteria (sanitation, safety, etc).
What is the process for someone in their car to find a Safe Parking location?
When someone living in their car calls 211 for help they get connected to Coordinated Entry (CE) a program of Associated Ministries. Outreach workers or Coordinated Entry staff will work with this person to identify a Safe Parking site, complete intake documents, and contact Colin DeForrest, SPN Coordinator, to do a background check. When the person qualifies and is accepted into the program, Colin will meet them at the selected Safe Parking Network site, collect the paperwork (or, in some cases, complete the paperwork), get them into an assigned spot and give them a permit to place on their dashboard. The TUUC liaison or a volunteer will meet with Colin and the new guest to help orient them to the location which will include going over the site rules/behavior expectations and getting the guest’s signature on that document. There could be some variation in how this works but our guests will be identified, vetted, oriented, and connected with the appropriate services. We like to think of this as a covenant agreement: both TUUC and the guest are expected to behave in certain ways.
What kind of staffing will TUUC provide?
TUUC will provide a liaison(s) and volunteers to help with welcome and orientation. This is a congregational program and several congregants have already indicated that they would like to volunteer. Libby Ball, Church Administrator, will not be actively interfacing with the guests, but, as building manager will be in the communication loop.
We are working on identifying training for volunteers beyond a simple job description. Coordinators of the sites we have visited identify two important volunteer attributes: excellent listening skills and compassion. Ability to clearly understand and implement boundaries is also important. Interested volunteers can email the SJC Subcommittee on Housing Insecurity at TUUCHousingSubComm@gmail.com.
What other churches or locations are part of the Tacoma/Pierce County SPNPP?
South Hill Baptist Church in Puyallup and The Eastside Church of the Believers in East Tacoma are active sites. South Hill Baptist currently has 10 cars; three families have moved into stable housing and three more cars were able to park. The Eastside Church of the Believers is hosting three families. Several other locations are working on the process of navigating the hierarchy of review and approval at their institutions. This is a learning and trust building process for all: the sites and the guests.
This FAQ covers the questions that we, the Ad Hoc Committee on Building and Grounds Security, can anticipate based on the knowledge and experience of the SPNPP staff and coordinators of established sites outside the county with whom we have been in contact. We know that it is not complete. The unknown and the unintended are always part of our experience; we are always learning. We will continue to share what we learn from others and, hopefully, through practical experience with you.
Note: These FAQs were also included in the February 21, 2021 ENews.