Organizers look to expand overnight parking program for working homeless

FRISCO — The recently launched overnight parking program for the county’s working homeless has been a success, according to organizers and participants.

In July, a local organization called Good Bridge Community began efforts to start a pilot program for people who are living in their cars that would provide a safe, reliable and convenient location to park and sleep overnight without being roused by law enforcement or private property owners.

The program kicked off with six participants at a local house of worship that offered its parking lot. Stakeholders in the project have asked the Summit Daily News not to print the location of the lot, citing concerns about unpermitted individuals showing up and jeopardizing the project. But nearly three months into the experiment, organizers are excited with how things have played out.

“From what I’ve heard from people I’ve talked to in the program, they’re receiving more relaxed sleep, more sound sleep,” said Raychel Kelly, founder of Good Bridge Community, who spearheaded efforts to make the program a reality. “They feel like they’re in a better situation with stability to come back to one location instead of searching throughout the night for different locations to see if it would work, or if they’ll be noticed — all those logistics that go into daily decision making for these individuals.”

The program operates relatively simply. Applicants for the program are required to fill out a questionnaire that includes information regarding personal history, employment and more. Participants must also agree to a code of conduct — preventing things like fighting, littering and camping — along with a small monthly fee.

Once accepted into the program, participants are given a permit to hang in their car that allows them to stay in the parking lot from 7 p.m. to 8 am. daily. The site also provides a portable restroom for participants and will provide snow plowing throughout winter.

In addition to organizers, participants also lauded the program for providing a stable place to stay at night.

“It’s been outstanding,” said Lamont Wright, one of the participants. “It gives you a safe place to park. I work until 1 a.m., and one time I rolled in at the earliest part of the program and a cop followed me in. I showed him my tag, and he said, ‘You’re good to go.’ It proves law enforcement is aware of the situation, and they’re there to protect you. … I’ve already told people about it who are interested, and I’d love to see it expanded.”

Representatives at the church hosting the program also said it has been successful, noting there haven’t been any conflicts with services or other events and that there haven’t been any issues with the participants.

Ultimately, one of the goals of the pilot program is to expand it to other areas in the county and work on that expansion already has begun. Susan Knopf, one of the main contributors to the program, said the group is putting together a packet of testimonials from organizers at the church and participants in the program to show community leaders and private property owners. The packet is meant to act as a proof of success as those involved move forward with efforts to expand the program.

“We need other sites as we move into the next season for people to stay,” Knopf said. “The problem is we’re trying to deal with people’s fears. When people see others camp out and turn lots into junkyards, people are afraid that will happen here. … So what we need to do is get this in front of the county, the towns and private landowners and show them this program works.”

In addition to local government entities, Knopf noted there would be outreach efforts to private landowners and businesses, including the county’s ski areas, to provide other safe, local parking situations for workers. Knopf also noted that allowing the county’s working homeless to get a good night’s sleep makes a difference for the whole community.

“What’s at stake is huge,” Knopf said. “There are people who’ve been pushed out of homes and living in cars operating heavy machinery and deep fryers. There’s a safety concern if our workforce isn’t well-rested. Not being able to afford housing isn’t a criminal offense. We certainly can’t blame an employee whose wages aren’t sufficient to afford housing in this marketplace. The least we can do for the workers who are important pieces of our community is provide this parking.”

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