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'Temporary Stepping Stone': Safe Parking Program Expands In Boulder County

Stephanie Daniel
Samantha Marshall lived in her car with her husband and three dogs. They participated in SafeLot, a program that provides safe overnight parking in a designated lot.

Last August, KUNC aired a story about SafeLot, a new program in Longmont that provides safe parking for people who live in their cars. Now that program is expanding. Colorado Edition co-host Henry Zimmerman spoke to KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel, who reported the original story, to learn more about the expansion.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Henry Zimmerman: Before we talk about the expansion of the safe parking program, can you remind us what it is?

Stephanie Daniel: Sure. SafeLot was created by HOPE, homeless outreach in Longmont. It opened last summer at a local church and provides safe overnight parking in a designated lot from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. The lot has room for eight vehicles. Participants, or parkers as the HOPE staff calls them, get daily breakfast and dinner, they can use the bathrooms and shower, there’s a community room. A HOPE case manager is also on site to help parkers connect to social services, resources and help with their general needs.

SafeLot allows families, couples and pets, which is different from traditional shelters that mainly serve individual adults. During my reporting, I met Samantha Marshall and her husband Brandon. They were living in their gray, two-door Scion Touring Coupe with three dogs.

Before the Marshalls got accepted into the program, they stayed in random parking lots or parks but that quickly became a hassle. SafeLot has given them hope, said Samantha.

It’s our safe spot. You know it’s our home right now.”

SafeLot can accommodate eight vehicles. It’s currently at capacity and there’s a waiting list to get a spot. How is HOPE expanding the program?

HOPE is creating a hub model and the original site is the hub. SafeLot is opening auxiliary lots at two additional churches in Longmont and each will have a capacity of five vehicles. These new lots will have safe parking and porta-potties. But participants will have to go to the original site for meals, showers and to meet with the case manager.

Joseph Zanovitch, executive director of HOPE, said the hub model is an efficient way to run to the program and allows them to expand it more easily.

For the cost of in a sense, one lot, I can have 10 lots really in a hub area. Because as long as they're all close together and our overnight staff can connect with one another, connect with participants and folks are able to access the hub, it allows us to expand really for the price of a port-a-potty and an open participant church that's willing to let us be there. So, yes, it's great from a cost standpoint."

The Longmont auxiliary lots are opening this week. HOPE is also planning a Boulder SafeLot which should open mid-spring.

What’s next for SafeLot? Does HOPE plan to expand their hub model beyond Boulder County?

HOPE only serves Boulder County, but they are working with the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative to help other SafeLots in the Denver metro area get up and running. Here’s the thing about SafeLots, they are designed to be a band-aid, a temporary solution. The idea is to give people living in their cars a safe place to sleep while they get the resources and assistance to get back on their feet. The goal is not to open 100 SafeLots, said Zanovitch, it’s to get people into permanent housing.

“We are dependent on a housing market that is not too kind for folks making minimum wage or even just a little bit more. So, with that in mind, really, (the) next step is looking at how can we increase housing, affordable housing for folks that really do need it. So that these SafeLots really, truly are just a temporary steppingstone for someone to get into a better place.”

The program is working, he said. Parkers have successfully left and “graduated to a better place in their life.” When someone leaves, a SafeLot space opens up for the next person.

What happened with Samantha Marshall, her husband and three dogs? Are they still in the SafeLot program?

I asked Joseph for an update on the Marshalls when we talked. He said Samantha is in cosmetology school and Brandon is working. They are still in the program because, even though they are saving money, housing is just too expensive. This is a problem for a lot of people experiencing homelessness, said Zanovitch.

“What they are experiencing is what a lot of folks in this situation are experiencing. Even if we were able to give them a boost with a couple of months rent, they still have not made enough to be able to cover the month to month rent.”

But I am happy to report that a couple days after I talked to Joseph, he sent me a text message which said the Marshalls found a place to live and are moving this week.

This interview is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for Feb. 1. You can find the full episode here.

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