Church Parking Lot Provides Unique Housing for Homeless

By Stan Friedman

GOLETA, CA (July 2, 2012) – Community Covenant Church is one of several churches in the Santa Barbara area participating in Safe Parking, a program that offers space for homeless residents living in their cars to park overnight. The program is featured in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

According to the article titled “The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class,” 23 parking lots in Santa Barbara “house” 150 people in 113 vehicles each night. A local counseling center, New Beginnings, oversees the program, assigning each vehicle to a specific lot. The lots are generally open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Local activists started the project in 2003 after Santa Barbara enacted laws to ban overnight parking, directed at the burgeoning number of homeless sleeping in their cars on the street. Since then, other cities have begun to consider implementing the program.

Applicants interested in the program contact New Beginnings. Case managers check the lots twice a week to ensure compliance, build relationships with clients, and offer other services. The goal is to eventually relocate participants to permanent housing.

Janis Adkins parks her vehicle each night in the Covenant church’s lot and is one of the people featured in the article. (The church is referred to as the Goleta Community Covenant Church.)

Denise Lindberg, the church’s pastoral associate of adult ministries and outreach, says she is grateful for the article because it highlights the increasing problem of homelessness.

Safe Parking is just one program the church offers. Last month it launched a ministry designed to empower people to achieve their employment goals. Together with other local churches and Bridges of Hope, a local nonprofit focused on community development throughout the world, Community Covenant is spearheading Helping Open Paths to Employment (HOPE). The holistic program offers spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical assistance. It is a community development model similar to what Bridges uses in ministering to AIDS-ravaged communities in South Africa, Lindberg says.

“The model that we are using in HOPE is a sustainable model that empowers people to meet their own needs,” Lindberg emphasizes. “It isn’t a handout, and it isn’t about long-term dependence. It’s about walking alongside people and enabling them to use their own skills and resources to meet their own needs.”

HOPE provides volunteer work opportunities for men and women so they can demonstrate and sharpen their skills, build confidence, and establish contacts for job references, Lindberg says.

“The houseless participants in our program are eager to return to the workforce and have valuable skills to offer,” Lindberg adds. “They are thanked for their service with gift cards from various local stores.”

Participants are chosen based on their demonstrated commitment to attending weekly meetings, working well with others, and diligently completing projects, Lindberg says.

They also receive application and interview skills, references, professional attire and, upon completion of the five-month program, recommendations to local employers.

In addition to providing new skills and opportunities, the program restores the participants’ confidence and sense of self-worth, which are often casualties of the descent into homelessness.

The program began June 12 and meets at the Covenant church. “Already we’ve been encouraged by the participants in our program who are eager to work,” Lindberg says. “They are gaining confidence and excited about being able to contribute to their community.”

Lindberg says she hopes the model will help break down the persistent stereotype people have of the homeless, a stereotype that also is an obstacle to finding employment.

“The women and men participating in HOPE are capable, resourceful, skilled, intelligent, and socially competent,” Lindberg says. “In fact, when you visit a HOPE meeting, it’s very difficult to tell who is looking for work and who is helping to facilitate.”

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