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A New parking program that provides shelter for homeless people living in cars is coming to Fremont

Homelessness is the foundational problem that the Fremont City Council has been actively addressing. In combination with measures for affordable housing, new programs the Safe Parking Initiative seek to provide aid in a different way—assisting individuals through functional charitable giving through community partnership.

Illustration by Madison Chun

By Daniel Gong, Katelyn Shen, Shu Han Jin

Edited Faith Qiao


In California, there are 160,000 thousand homeless individuals struck by poverty and unable to afford the cost of living within the state. Of these 160,000 thousand people displaced by the negative externalities of their environment, many of them shelter in a vehicle. This is the development that shapes the Safe Parking Program: providing a safe parking lot to allow these people to settle.

Specifically, the program allows private churches and religious organizations to volunteer to host individuals living out of their car for a month. These individuals are allowed to live in the church parking lot, effectively providing them with a stable place to stay. In addition to this, the program also provides basic amenities to the participants, such as a bathroom, water, access to laundry, etc. With the many benefits this project brings, it seems like a good move by the city to improve the homelessness crisis and help individuals living out of their car find a stable environment to live in.

It was originally proposed as an ordinance back in May 13, 2021. The original proposal allowed private host sites to allow safe parking for people living out of their cars. After a month, the city council officially adopted the ordinance on June 15, 2021. After undergoing some changes, the program’s current form was approved on July 20,2021. After six months, the first rotation of the program started in February 2022 at Niles Discovery Church. Many churches are interested in hosting the program, with the current list of churches interested in hosting being Christ the King Church, Grace Church, Niles Discovery Church, and South Bay Community Church.

Pros and Cons

Beyond the concern of homelessness, the program is volunteer based, so the city does not need to provide much funding and resources itself. In short, it is fiscally sustainable.

Furthermore, the program has been statistically proven to be successful. In the neighboring city of Mountain View, their Safe Parking Program, which is similar to Fremont’s, resulted in 30-50% of participants of the program obtaining housing afterwards. While their program is slightly different both in scale and logistics, this statistic demonstrates the effectiveness of the program in helping the homelessness crisis.

After covering different Fremont homeless initiatives, we've already seen a common pattern of responses in relation to these programs. The Safe Parking Program is no exception to the rule. Outstanding concerns surrounding such an initiative lies in the concern over safety. On the social media site Nextdoor, many living in Fremont feel as if having homeless programs may be unsafe for residents near the area. Many also feel the city is taking the wrong course of action to solve homelessness, and should focus on the root issue instead of commodities for the homeless—Fremont has been initiating projects on multiple affordable housing measures, homeless navigation centers rather than addressing their inability to find a suitable employment opportunity to fit the cost of living in such a city.

It is still extremely small, and has only hosted 15 cars so far. To put this number to scale: Mountain View’s program hosts over a hundred individuals. Of course a large reason is because it has only been around for a month.

While this program may seem pretty inclusive, there are many rules the participants must follow. Participants must have a valid license, be older than eighteen years old, and must work with their social service providers while participating in the program. Additionally, host sites have designated evening close times and morning opening times that participants must follow, essentially creating a curfew. Essentially, the capacity is limited by the fact that you must have a car.

Why is there so little notice?

Back in January 2021, a survey was given to many Fremont residents that featured several questions related to what would eventually become the Safe Parking Program. In the survey, 89% of Fremont residents responded having been involved with people living out of their cars, whether it be through seeing someone, knowing someone, or they themselves formerly living out of their car. This is not surprising, as the number of individuals in Fremont living out of their car has risen from 65 in 2017 to 238 in 2019. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this number has undoubtedly increased, further increasing the relevancy of the program.

Furthermore, 50% of people in the survey said they were extremely concerned for people living out of their cars, with another 25% being moderately concerned. Of the listed concerns, the largest were concerns with waste and sanitation, unstable living, and unsafe living. The program definitely took this into account, as it attempts to address all three of these concerns. However, many residents are still skeptical of the program near businesses and residential areas and fear it may have negative consequences.

Overall, the Safe Driving Program has received little focus from locals in Fremont. Due to the setting for the program, it has mostly managed to avoid the public eye. The program started during the appearance of the highly contagious Omicron COVID -19 variant, when people mostly stayed inside and avoided outside gatherings such as church. Additionally, the program only occurs from the late evening to the early morning because it is only meant to be a place for those suffering from vehicular homelessness to park their cars for the night.

As the program takes place after most people have retired and before people head out in the morning, most people do not see it occur. Moreover, not many foundations or organizations have chosen to participate and help in the program. This limits the amount of people exposed to the program, deterring the reach of it. Adding on, the program is only applicable to a small amount of the population, causing there to be little discussion on the topic.

The Safe Parking Program is an opportunity that has yet to be fully taken advantage of. Many of the city's initiatives are well-endowed but out of the reach of the people they seek to assist. The voices that are heard the most are of the ones of the well-off, upper-middle class of the American echelon.

There are upwards of 608 homeless individuals in this city of 88 square-mile city and only 15 cars currently taking advantage of the program that seeks to help them. Community centers such as libraries hold the greatest ability to spread the news, and they have. But after months of covering Fremont, we realized just how obscure some of the programs are—the opportunities available that remain hidden. Simply raising awareness will garner substantial change, and on this front, City Leadership holds the greatest power.

As discussed before, there is a consistent theme in the way active residents respond to homeless initiatives: "I want to help them, but don't put them near me, they're dangerous." Enough said. There is no genuine willingness to help these people. And this rigid social stigma is what feeds a symptomatic helplessness.

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