Most SLO County safe parking residents accept relocation money. But some aren’t happy

A month ago, residents of the Oklahoma Avenue Safe Parking Site were given the option to sign up for relocation aid as the county and its service partner draw the site closer to closing permanently.

Two weeks out from the Oct. 18 deadline to accept relocation help — which included a pre-loaded $1,000 debit card upon exit, plus help fixing vehicles, obtaining documentation and housing placement — almost every resident has signed up to leave, Homeless Services Division communications program manager Suzie Freeman said.

Freeman said as of Wednesday, around 95% of the parking site’s residents had signed relocation contracts, which entitles the resident to the package of benefits and sets an attainable move-out date based on individual need.

In practice, that means all but one or two of the parking site’s 40 to 50 residents have signed relocation contracts, Freeman said.

“I think a good way to think about this is that no one had the same reason for going to the Oklahoma parking site originally, which means that no one will have that same exit story leaving,” Freeman said. “We’re treating each person as an individual and working with them to find whatever solution meets their needs at that time.”

However, while some site residents said they were happy with the housing outcome they found through the relocation program, others said it felt like they were being moved to housing outcomes that were insufficient, or not a housing outcome at all.

“The thing is, it’s not a relocation because they’re not giving us places to go,” site resident Treva Kathary told The Tribune.

How have relocation efforts played out so far?

Freeman said since the Oct. 18 deadline to accept relocation aid, 16 people have left the parking site.

Prior to this most recent wave of exits, 43 people had been placed in some form of housing solution, Freeman said, though some site residents and community activists have pushed back on the accuracy of this figure in the past.

For the remaining residents, timelines for exiting the site can range between a few weeks and a few months, Freeman said.

Generally speaking, the majority of the site’s residents will likely leave the parking site by mid-January, Freeman said.

That largely falls in line with the county’s stated goal to draw the site down to closure by the end of 2023, which was announced in late February.

San Luis Obispo County supervisors Bruce Gibson, center, and Jimmy Paulding, seated at right, talk to residents at the Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site on April 26, 2023. Resident David Richford is standing at left.
San Luis Obispo County supervisors Bruce Gibson, center, and Jimmy Paulding, seated at right, talk to residents at the Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site on April 26, 2023. Resident David Richford is standing at left.

Freeman said exit dates are supposed to be determined in a partnership between the resident and a case manager at the Community Action Partnership of SLO County, known as CAPSLO. But that can vary on an individual basis.

CAPSLO case managers provide residents with a list of potential housing options or can find a solution based on the resident’s resources and needs, Freeman said.

“Many people are pursuing family reunification, some people are going to permanent RV parks, (and) we have a number of folks that are waiting for different housing vouchers,” Freeman said. “They might be on the list for an affordable housing option that’s opening up in the area, so we’re really trying to pursue whatever option might be best for that person.”

Site resident says housing options can’t meet needs

Kathary, who has lived on the parking site since it opened, said the lack of housing options in San Luis Obispo County has kept her from finding a match, despite signing the contract.

Kathary, 65, said she makes around $1,200 a month — too much for most affordable housing developments but not nearly enough to afford most rents without a voucher of some kind.

Some issues — such as the age of her recreational vehicle — have also prohibited her from finding housing in a mobile home park, many of which only admit newer RVs, she said.

Katharay said case managers tried to convince her to accept a spot to park her trailer in Santa Margarita as a form of relocation, but she said the location had no power, water or sewer hookups and also prohibited visitors.

“There was no way that was gonna work for me — what if I needed help with my RV but couldn’t have nobody come over?” Kathary said.

Kathary said she’s received some help with vehicle repairs, including installing a new catalytic converter, but noted that getting help fixing the RV has been inconsistent.

Additionally, residents have recently been prohibited from working on their vehicles while on the site due to concerns from the county Environmental health Services over the discharge of motor oil and fuels, the county confirmed in a statement.

“All county-authorized vehicle diagnostics and repairs are being done by a certified mechanic either on-site or at a nearby repair shop,” the statement read. “If the work is done on-site, the mechanic uses industry-standard measures and equipment to prevent any leaks of hazardous materials.”

Kathary said that new policy has slowed down progress of moving individuals off the parking site.

She said her case manager has matched her to low-income housing options three times, but none of the options have panned out.

“This is like the third supposed low-income housing (option), because that’s really what I want,” Kathary said. “I don’t know what I’ll do with my trailer, but I don’t want to go to a place that I’m gonna hate.”

What will happen for the remaining residents?

Jane, a resident who chose not to be identified for privacy reasons, said she has been “ostracized” by county and CAPSLO workers because she is one of the only people not to sign a relocation contract.

She had served as a caretaker to her mother in the later years of her life, and suffered several health problems that made working difficult, which means she gets very little money from Social Security.

Jane has lived at the parking site since it opened and has been homeless since 2012, when she was unable to continue paying taxes on her family home.

She said she didn’t trust the county or CAPSLO to make good on promises to surge services to the parking site as part of efforts to close the site.

Jane said she took issue with the places she was offered for relocation, which included Bakersfield, Redding and other cities she had never lived in before.

In the past two years of living on the site, Jane said, she’s looked for housing but has “exhausted all (her) possibilities,” leaving her with few options other than the parking site.

She said in the past, she had tried to organize resistance among her fellow residents to the site’s closure due to the lack of local housing options and said the county has the money to keep the site running.

“Even though I would rather leave the (San Luis Obispo County) area, I’m just stuck in life,” Jane said. “I don’t really know where to go.”

Freeman said the county is still working with partners such as CAPSLO to determine the best approach for moving the remaining handful of residents who did not sign relocation contracts into housing, likely at an unknown date early next year.

“It is unfortunately common that a housing pathway ends short of its destination at no fault of the person,” Freeman said in an email to The Tribune. “In the event that happens, the county and its partners are continuing to engage with people to find a new solution for them as long as they are willing to engage with us.”