The Mobile Homeless on PCH: ‘We Can Park Them,’ Doctor Said

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

The prospect of the city’s vehicle-owning “mobile homeless” overnighting in parking lots owned by Palisadian churches and other religious institutions may appear improbable. But the town’s community council dedicated nearly half of its last meeting to the prospect.

Pacific Palisades Community Council representatives were questioning Dr. Scott Sale, a founder of the nonprofit organization SafeParkingLA, which has received $200,000 in county funding and is running pilot programs at churches in Koreatown, Santa Barbara and San Diego.

It is a novel response to a social crisis that threatens to overwhelm Los Angeles, where 400 more people are joining the ranks of the county’s 58,000 homeless every day.

For a mess of reasons, the “unhoused” population is 30 percent larger than in 2013 and, despite the applauded work of organizations such as the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, it is a tsunami of human misery that shows no signs of ebbing.

Around a quarter of LA’s homeless hold down jobs and then sleep in their cars—these include the Uber and Lyft drivers, veterans, and mothers ejected from abusive homes who park and sleep along PCH. Many commute to work in downtown hotels.

They can be chefs, teachers or nurses, Sale said: “They are the low-hanging fruit in the homeless communities we can most easily help—because they are still helping themselves and the community.”

But the doctor, an immunologist by profession, fears that unless radical steps are taken, this social malaise will spread uncontrollably to many other areas on the Westside.

For the past six years, SafeParkingLA has taken over a faith-based institution’s parking lot at night, vetted and policed those who turn up seeking safe refuge, offered portable wash facilities, and ushered the Prius out at dawn.

Clients are limited to 30 nights, but they say they have never had a troublesome incident in 750,000 nights of safe parking. And when the vulnerable sleep safely, they feel safer and interact with the world in a calmer manner, SafeParkingLA experts claimed.

“The biggest problem we have is with religious preschool parents, who fear the worst. But that has never happened, not one case of vandalism, the police have never been called,” Sale said.

He told PPCC he has been “scouting out” the Palisades and has seen strong contenders who could offer alternatives to the tiny yardage of “green streets” currently authorized for overnight parking under a scheme that expires in July—when, in theory, sleeping in a car becomes illegal again.

“There are safer, cleaner alternatives to parking on Sunset near Ralphs,” he said.

There is one alternative to church or temple parking lots: Dick Wulliger of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society mentioned the PCH parking lots that currently remain empty all night.

But this is complicated by a current dispute over enforcing a beach curfew.

“This is all too messy to ever happen in the Palisades,” one representative said, “and yet we all know something has to change.”