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SLO County opens 'safe parking' site for unhoused residents

Angel Russell
The Safe Parking site is open everyday after 5 p.m. at Kansas Avenue and Oklahoma Avenue

Responding to an increase of residents living in their vehicles in Los Osos, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors opened its first “safe parking” site on county-owned land — but the pilot program is drawing backlash.

At the corner of Kansas and Oklahoma avenues off Highway 1, cars are pulling up to a gated dirt parking lot, checking in with a security guard to let them in so they can sleep in their cars for the night. Cole Parker is one of the first to arrive Monday evening.

“I didn’t know what to expect," Parker said. "I figured I’d try it out.”

Before this, Parker was sleeping in his car on a street in Los Osos. He said he lost his job in the Bay Area, and moved down to the Central Coast recently to be closer to his family — who don’t know he’s homeless and without a job. 

“[My plan is] hopefully get a job, and get a place to live," Parker said. "An actual place to live, not in a driveway!”

This safe parking site was created in response to a growing unhoused population living on the streets in Los Osos. It provides showers, restrooms, dumpsters and a shaded seating area.

At the August 10 Board of Supervisors meeting  — when they approved the site — many, like Los Osos resident Paul Hersfield, said it was not a solution to the problem. 

“This plan will fail," Hersfield said. "Because instead of improving the lives of unhoused people, it will make life more difficult. The unhoused wont go.”

Supervisor Bruce Gibson said this site is not meant to be a solution, but a “baby step” toward finding better alternatives for the growing homeless population. 

“We can do better than Kansas Avenue, and we can do more than Kansas Avenue," Gibson said. " But we need to start some place.”

The county said it will keep the site open as a three-month pilot program, and will then evaluate if it's successful.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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