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Encinitas approves new location for overnight Safe Parking Program for homeless people

All participants, who are pre-screened and must spend the night in their vehicles, will be required to leave the lot by 7 a.m. each day.

ENCINITAS, Calif. — After hours of passionate public comment, the Encinitas City Council voted Wednesday to approve re-locating its overnight Safe Parking Lot for homeless people.

The plan is to move the "safe lot" from a more secluded location to one that is near schools, a senior center and a city park.

While Wednesday night's public hearing was virtual, some opponents to the newly proposed appeared beforehand in person outside Encinitas City Hall.

"We find that this location is just really bad," said homeowner and mother Jennifer Kuckenbaker. 

While the Safe Parking Pilot Program in Encinitas is currently located on private property off Quails Garden Drive, the property's owner says this was never meant to be permanent, meaning that after the current contract ends November 30, a new location would have to be found.

The approved new spot is the lower section of the Encinitas Community & Senior Center's larger parking lot, near the intersection of Balour Drive and Oakcrest Park Drive.

The current restrictions would apply to the new location. The lot will accommodate no more than 25 vehicles, and security guards will remain on-site during operating hours, which would span from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., seven days a week. 

All participants, who are pre-screened and must spend the night in their vehicles, would be required to leave the lot by 7 a.m. each day.

Opponents say that this is not a safe location, especially considering its proximity to schools. 

"I find it disturbing that this location has made it this far in the process," said Encinitas resident Julie Thunder. 

 "Let's protect our children, let's protect our teachers, let's protect our senior citizens and find the proper place for people in transition to park at night," added Adam Huey.  

"I think you should put this at City Hall if you put it anywhere,  where you spend the majority of your day!" suggested Stephanie Wheeler to the council members. 

Supporters, though, pointed out that this program, which is run primarily through state funding, offers a critical resource for recently homeless people and families, providing a safe space to sleep while they search for permanent housing, and also receive social services. 

"Twenty-five cars in a huge parking lot doesn't threaten our children," said Encinitas resident Tom Scott, "Decisions based on fear and disinformation do."

One speaker, Jody Ipsen, identified herself as a current participant in the Safe Parking program, which she said is working. 

"It pains me greatly to hear that people are referring to us as drug addicts and mentally ill who are losers," Ipsen said. "We are not!"

The Encinitas City Council will reconvene on October 13 to formalize a new agreement with Jewish Family Services, the nonprofit that runs this program.

WATCH RELATED: Encinitas City Council to vote on controversial safe parking lot for homeless (Jan. 2020)