Longmont council considers ‘safe lot’ plan, reviews homeless numbers

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Longmont City Council has agreed to analyze a “safe lot” solution to address homelessness and look into a pilot for such a program.

The idea for a safe lot, which as the name implies is safe place for people to park vehicles in which they are living, was brought up at a work session last week during which council reviewed data on homelessness in the city. The safe lot was proposed by Joseph Zanovitch, executive director of Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement, or HOPE.

There are a few basic requirements for a parking lot to be considered a safe lot, including a basic level of security, bathrooms, a place where people can wash and “electricity if possible,” Zanovitch said. “It’s simply a safe place for people to park.”

He said HOPE has found that when many people initially become homeless, “they are going to go right to their vehicle. And generally they’re going to go right to one of our two Walmarts.”

According to him, though, Walmart stores in Longmont recently have not been as accommodating to people living in their vehicles, which is pushing them out into the surrounding area, and in many cases to church parking lots.

“A lot of the faith community are already serving as miniature safe lots as it is right now,” Zanovitch  said.

Councilwoman Joan Peck said Friday that one of the reasons that she wanted to have the meeting and consider safe lots is she has recently heard concerns and complaints from residents over people living in recreational vehicles.

“Our residents have been emailing us about all the RVs (that are) parking in their neighborhoods,” she said, “some of them dumping illegally in their yards, in our streets, in the creek, everywhere.”

According to an estimate from Zanovitch and Longmont police officer Dave Kennedy, there are about 80 RVs and 60 passenger vehicles currently serving as housing in the city.

During his presentation to council, Zanovitch cited examples of other cities that have implemented similar programs, including Seattle, San Diego and Monterey County in California. All have different levels of public funding, with nonprofits picking up the slack to varying degrees, he said.

San Diego’s safe lot system, Zanovitch said, is run by a nonprofit and is one of the more impressive examples.

“They’ve been able to get 1,700 people into housing since 2010,” he said.

Zanovitch’s vision for safe lots is to have case management intertwined, and only allow folks into them if they agree to participate in Boulder County and Longmont’s ecosystem of homeless services. He said that would provide reach to a portion of the homeless population not currently covered.

“Also, one of the things I found in this (that) was very, very powerful to me — and I talked to a few folks through this — folks living in their vehicles, for the most part don’t consider themselves homeless,” Zanovitch said, adding that even if they don’t consider themselves homeless, without assistance they could eventually end up in an even worse situation.

Mike Butler, Longmont’s public safety chief, said he would like to investigate the idea further.

“We’d like to do the research, we’d like to call those communities (that have implemented safe lots) and find out what the debit-credit score for having those safe lots (is),” he said. “In other words, if we can develop safe lots and it turns out there’s less crime in neighborhoods and less crime elsewhere, you know, we want to find those things out first, before we consider it.”

As for other sections of the homeless population in Longmont, council members received figures Friday that reveal their size and scale. The study, according to Eliberto Mendoza, project coordinator for Longmont’s community services department, was the result of council members saying they needed more data to illuminate the issue.

The study, compiled by Mendoza,features data from a variety of sources, and identifies needs among multiple sections of the homeless populations.

The final conclusions presented in the report were that all sections of the Longmont homeless population are “in need of affordable housing,” and that supportive housing, sheltering for specific groups and support services are lacking.

According to Homeless Solutions for Boulder County data featured in the report, 769 people registered for services through coordinated entry.

“We know that there is a significant population of people that have not gone through (coordinated entry), and we don’t… have that data, because they’re just not involved in the system,” Mendoza said.

The report also mentioned that 411 people labeled as “transient” had contact with police, according to a 2018 Longmont public safety report.

Mentioned in the report alongside data for coordinated entry were 106 victims of domestic violence that utilized services at Safe Shelter of the St. Vrain Valley in 2018, according to the nonprofit.

Council members expressed concern over the gap in services for multiple areas of the homeless population, including seniors, who according to the report deal with significant waiting lists when applying for housing through the Longmont Housing Authority.

In addition to saying she favored a pilot program for safe lots, Councilwoman Marcia Martin brought up the issue of elderly disabled people in need of housing, who she feels are not being properly addressed.

“I don’t know whether it’s (Longmont Housing Authority) or whether we need a different property, but somebody has got to address this, this disabled elder problem,” she said.

 

Source: https://www.timescall.com/2019/09/29/longmont-council-considers-safe-lot-plan-reviews-homeless-numbers/

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