• Play
  • Recently Played

K-LOVE's Positive People: Vehicle Safe Zones For 'The New Homeless'

Wednesday, April 17, 2019
AP/Ted S Warren

K-LOVE News - by George Rath - Living in your car. Have you ever considered it? It seems to be a growing population for those who find themselves without housing they can afford. Sometimes it’s a transition in life, and sometimes it’s a last resort. Using that as a backdrop, a growing ministry for some churches is ‘Safe Parking Zones.’ Places where a man, woman or even a whole family can park and sleep overnight for free without worry.

One church offering safe parking is Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington. Jim McCorkle heads up the program. He says it was out of necessity, “In general, Overlake is a church where we believe we’re called to love God, love people, serve the world. So that’s just part of our DNA, part of how we think and that plays out in a number of ways. One of the main ways it plays out is when we see a need in the community around us, we are motivated to use the resources we have to sort of step in that need and show Christ’s love to the community. So, in this case there’s a very big need in the community, a growing number of unhoused people living in their vehicles.” Jim says the number locally is in excess of 3,000 people in King County alone. Reasons for the increased unhoused community include people living paycheck-to-paycheck and something hit to impact their lives. Either losing their job, a car accident, a health issue or a divorce. So one of the first things that seem to go is the housing and housing expense.

Image: AP/Elaine Thompson

Overlake church is blessed with a lot of resources and one of those is a very large parking lot. So it just seemed like a natural fit. The Safe Parking Ministry started three years ago and each night, up to 15 cars are allowed to park in the church’s parking lot. Potential guests fill out an application then go through a background check and interview process, then are put on a waiting list. Jim says it makes sense to have those protections in place. “We are a safe parking program, and so one of the first things we are committing to you, you stay with us is that we’re going to provide you with a safe and secure environment. You know free of harassment or hassles of being towed or ticketed or all of the things folks living in their vehicles run into.”

Another resource Overlake Christian Church has and offers is a shower. The showers are open to anyone who needs one, not just the Safe Parking guests. And on occasion volunteers bring out gift cards and gas cards.

Image: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez

In San Jose, California there is a similar program that rotates churches every month. Finny Abraham is the local Compassion Pastor at Westgate Church and says the need is great in that area as well. “In San Jose area, even though there is a lot of wealth and jobs, there’s also a very high issue of homelessness here. In Mountain View, about 3,000 or something folks or families were living in cars.” Pastor Finny says they realized they couldn’t eliminate homelessness, but they could do something. The church chose as a demographic to help those who are doing something to make a change in their lives. And if getting a good night sleep would help them do that well, they want to support them. Like the program in Washington, people go through an application process, background check and usually onto a waiting list.

Recently four churches in Oakland, California say they will start opening their parking lots to overnight parking for the homeless. The sites will include portable toilets, drinking water and hand washing stations.

You may be wondering if there have been success stories. The answer to that is yes. Pastor Finny tells the story of one woman who had parked in their lot. “One was a lady who was working in San Francisco. And she said her family, who’s from a different state, does not know that she is homeless. She came to San Francisco to work and knew it was a difficult place to find housing but didn’t know it was this bad. Ended up in her car. She’s just staying in her car to save for a few months and get into a house so she can give the deposit and stuff and start living. So, she’s studying as well as working. It was scary for her to live somewhere in San Francisco. Because she said that everyday outside she saw violence and drugs. And she said that someone opening up a church’s parking lot she felt safe. She said that ‘I felt safe. I could sleep so that I could go and work.’ To hear that someone felt safe just because we opened up our church’s parking lot, that means a lot.”

Both Jim McCorkle and Pastor Finny Abraham say they had plenty of volunteers for the program. People are ready to help the less fortunate in their time of need.

The Safe Parking Zone program is likely to grow as well. In fact Jim has been talking to others about what they do. “We’ve had a number of organizations across the country discover us. And so we’ve been able to provide support and coaching. I mean I’m working with someone right now in St. Paul, Minnesota. And shared all of our materials with them and they’re looking to get a program started.” Jim has also worked with two other churches in eastern Washington, Northern California, Southern California and Pennsylvania.

Officials say look for the trend of those living unhoused to continue. And it appears that Safe Parking Zones are likely to continue to grow as well.

(2019 K-LOVE News/All Rights Reserved)