County expands Safe Parking program for homeless

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday expanded the county’s Safe Parking program, nearly doubling the overnight parking space set aside for homeless people who can’t get into shelters.

The Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with the nonprofit Catholic Charities, which will oversee an additional 30 spaces at the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department parking lot on Ventura Avenue. Along with being allowed to park overnight - from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. - homeless people will have access to free meals, warm clothing and case management services.

“This is a huge victory - it will help us connect with more people to get them into some sort of housing unit as soon as possible,” said Jennielynn Holmes, director of housing and shelter for Catholic Charities. “And it’s going to help get a lot of people off of our waiting list.”

Holmes said at present, 75 people are listed as waiting for a vacant space under the Safe Parking program.

The initiative was launched in February at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in response to seasonal cold and wet conditions. It has since shifted away from the fairgrounds to five sites at faith-based organizations with 35 spaces available all year long.

The program is seen as a critical component of Sonoma County’s million-dollar plan launched in August to help the estimated 10,000 homeless people who live here secure housing, shelter and other assistance.

“We really need these services,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo said the county should seek more aggressive ways to get people off the streets, including providing additional safe parking sites.

Zane, along with Supervisor Susan Gorin, is analyzing potential future uses of the county’s shuttered Chanate complex and said the 50-acre site could be made available for a homeless shelter and additional safe parking spaces.

Deputy County Administrator Chris Thomas said although Sutter will manage the county- owned complex on Chanate Road through the end of this month, department heads are exploring whether it could be used for a permanent homeless shelter or temporary assistance.

Additional emergency shelters and other services are available this winter, including during upcoming storms. For help, call the Cold Weather Hotline at 800-2927.

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or On Twitter @ahartreports.

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