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Serving people experiencing vehicular homelessness in Los Angeles


Young Adult Volunteer works with Safe Parking LA

July 12, 2019

Each of Safe Parking LA’s lots, such as this one in Koreatown, has a portable restroom and a guard available during program hours. (Photo by Rachel Eliser)

Many individuals and families are just one paycheck away from homelessness, explained Rachel Eliser, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) serving with Safe Parking LA, a nonprofit committed to providing a safe and secure place for vehicle dwellers to sleep. The Safe Parking LA program is modeled after programs in other cities in California, including Santa Barbara, San Diego and San Jose, as well as communities in Washington state and Oregon.

Through her work with Safe Parking LA during her year of YAV service, Eliser has met a woman living in her car with her 3-month-old son and a man living in his vehicle because he had to choose between paying rent on his apartment or child support for his four children.

When she asked the man about sharing, he replied, “Absolutely! I am here on this planet to learn and to share my experiences with humankind. Take care of yourself because you have been an inspiration to me that humanity caring is still in our natural makeup. Please include that I am able to succeed with my life at this time because of Safe Parking LA.”

“Their story is their reality,” Eliser said. They are among the more than 15,700 vehicle dwellers (in cars, vans, campers or RVs) in Los Angeles County, as of the homeless count taken in January 2018. On Skid Row, a 54-square-block area of downtown LA where it is legal to sleep on the streets, on any given night there are approximately 84,000 people transitioning through homelessness and in shelters.

Vehicle dwellers make up more than 25 percent of the overall homeless population of LA.

Rachel Eliser, a Young Adult Volunteer in Los Angeles, and one of her Safe Parking LA colleagues, Eurie, at right, pose with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti during a Homeless Connect Day event. Connect days are similar to job fairs, except that booths are staffed by service providers to help people experiencing homelessness. (Photo by Emily Kantrim)

“Safe Parking LA often gets applicants who are college-educated and working 40 hours a week,” Eliser said. “We are not case managers, nor social workers. We simply want to provide people with a safe place to sleep at night, while resting their body and their mind, so they can continue working to get back into housing.” She said Safe Parking LA provides access to a restroom while also helping vehicle dwellers avoid parking tickets and harassment.

If an applicant has a family, every effort is made to try to connect them to family services where their needs can be prioritized, she added.

Eliser majored in public relations at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and served as a publicity intern for the New Wilmington Mission Conference prior to her YAV year in LA.

Safe Parking LA obtains privately or publicly owned parking lots. Some lots are owned by the Department of Transportation or the Department of Public Health. Other lots are owned by faith organizations, such as the first Safe Parking LA lot that opened at a church in April 2018.

Eliser’s job placement at Safe Parking LA is varied. She works on applicant intake, which means talking with applicants to determine if they are in an area convenient to one of the parking lots. If not, she is able to share information on other resources and collaborate with others to help provide assistance. She also attends meetings and works on the website and social media for Safe Parking LA. She visits each of the lots from time to time and, on Saturday evenings, serves as a lot coordinator, checking people in as they arrive. Each lot also has a guard on duty during program hours.

“Most people living in their vehicles are homeless for the first time, and very recently homeless,” Eliser said. “So, they don’t know what resources are available to them, or they may not even consider themselves homeless, like this is a temporary thing. We always emphasize that no one at Safe Parking LA is a case manager or social worker or housing navigator or anything like that. We are simply lot operators, so we always try to point them in the direction of a case manager or housing navigator or whatever they may need.”

This is the first year the YAV program has partnered with Safe Parking LA. For more information, visit

Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Vehicular Homelessness

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Cynthia Beach, BOP
Stephanie Becker, OGA

Let us pray:

Creator God, we give thanks for opportunities to embrace the diversities among humankind. May this be a place where the community finds your unconditional love. Let their light shine with your grace. Amen.

Daily Readings

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