Every night at 9 p.m., I take my dogs for their final walk. Like clockwork, cars line up on the curb of the nearby park. These residents aren’t parking their vehicles to go to bed in the $1.5 million-plus single-family houses in my neighborhood. They are already home, reclined in their seats and struggling to keep warm enough to fall asleep in their poorly insulated cars.
Tonight, thousands of people in the Bay Area will sleep in their cars.In its biennial count in 2019, San Mateo County determined there were 1,512 residents experiencing homelessness — with 901 unsheltered individuals living either on the streets, in cars or recreational vehicles, or in tents and encampments. Coming in second, with 116 unsheltered residents, the city of Pacifica accounted for almost 13 percent of that total. This is not something to boast about.
Many of the homeless in Pacifica are gainfully employed, but because of the lack of quality affordable homes, they can’t afford to live here. Many had stable housing, graduated from Pacifica schools, and continue to support the community by working and shopping throughout the city. They’ve been in Pacifica the entire time; they are members of this community.
In August, Pacifica’s City Council released both a list and a map outlining where oversized vehicles can legally park overnight. These documents may be just what is needed to help stabilize people’s living conditions so they can focus on finding permanent housing. Our leaders should be commended and recognized for it.
However, this is only the first step in addressing the issue of homelessness in Pacifica. There is so much more that we can do. The City Council can help by implementing a safe parking program that provides our residents with a secure space to sleep, access to drinkable water and showers, electricity, food and 24-hour security as well as case management to help them find permanent housing.
We know this works because of the program in Redwood City. This community, which placed first in the aforementioned homeless count in 2019, allocated $1.7 million late last year to implement a two-year safe parking program and has seen a decrease in the number of people living in their cars. This is, by all metrics, a success story! While Pacifica may not have access to the same levels of funding as Redwood City, Supervisor Don Horsley has said that the county of San Mateo would be willing to work with the city if staff were to reach out for assistance.
I urge the Pacifica City Council to stand on the shoulders of their counterparts in Redwood City and to work in collaboration with the County to implement a safe parking program so everyone who lives and works in Pacifica can safely and humanely do so.
Ken Chan is an organizer for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.
-Ken Chan is an organizer for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.