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SGV Connect 116: Damien Newton Interviews Tashera Taylor, Melanie McNulty and Catherine Cheung

Damien Newton  00:00

Thank you all for being here with us today. It's a pleasure for me. As I said, I, in our pre interview,I did a whole series on safe parking in 2017. It's probably was  critically best received one I've ever done and I haven't with the pandemic haven't really had a chance to come back to it. So I'm excited to hear about any changes that may have happened in sort of safe parking policies and to hear about the program you all are running up in Pasadena. So why don't we start with you guys introducing yourselves and what it is you do for Foothill Unity Center, and we'll go from there?

Melanie McNulty  00:31

Hi, I'm Melanie McNulty. I am the social service manager here at Foothill Unity Center. In regards to our safe parking program. I do oversee the program, provide case management services and assistance to our other caseworkers as well. We help clients, meet their needs, and to assist in the housing process that also leads to primary supportive housing.

Catherine Cheung  00:58

My name is Catherine, I'm a caseworker and also program specialist. I operate the safe parking program. And I oversee the documents process and also case management, and make sure that they have an enjoyable parking experience. There is the problem is a temporary housing solution related to permanent housing solutions, and we make sure that they have this path to find the housing.

Tashera Taylor  01:32

Awesome. And thank you. I am Tahera Taylor. I'm the CEO here at Foothill Unity Center. And I focus on the development of the program itself. We partnered up with Safe Parking of San Gabriel Valley. And it's more of a faith based group that wanted  to bring safe parking in the San Gabriel Valley in the immediate along the foothills, because there wasn't one at that time that we knew of or recognized or even funded. And so we partnered with that group to go ahead and do or develop a design that would work for us at Foothill Unity Center, in terms of adding that into our programs. So more of the development design.

Damien Newton  02:19

Now, I would hope that most people would listen to this podcast are going to be really aware of what safe parking is. But why don't we just assume that there's going to be at least a few people that have no idea what it is we're talking about and explain how it is the program works sort of in the big high concept area.


Safe parking program is a program designed for vehicle dwellers, those who are sleeping in their vehicles, to have a safe haven to be able to comfortably sleep also ran with security as well and have facilities accesss  in preparation for being matched to permanent supportive housing, giving them to the right resources, as well in the meantime. So is a temporary solution, which is a pathway to more permanent supportive housing. And in doing so, they get matched to a coordinated entry system, which is a homeless information system that clients go into that is overseen by the Los Angeles Homeless Authority that are able to match clients to more permanent supportive housing. The caseworkers do provide that intervention. Although I work closely alongside with the partners, which is a name that we refer to our vehicle dwellers; getting them document ready, which means documents that are needed that goes towards permanent housing. And that is one way and Catherine's to

Catherine Cheung  03:55

Yes, two locations is at the Pasadena Trinity Church. And the churches are located up to 10 safe parking spots and up to 28. In total, there are 28 parking, but 10 of them are for this program. And also it is a safe environment where people can park their car and leave overnight and they also have a bathroom facilities. They have a security patrol to ensure the safety of the safe parker

Catherine Cheung  04:01

and it also prevents them from being at risk for being ticketed, being at risk of vandalism parking in other areas that may be deemed unsafe, or just a harassment that goes along as well are are the unauthorized places to be able to park. This gives them the authorization to be at a park that gives them that freedom and also minimizes the anxiety and the fear. or have have made face and other types of situations such as vandalism or tickets and things like that.

Tashera Taylor  05:09

 Can I follow up with just a quick story on that Damien? On a street that I live, there are many people that are parking in their vehicles. And so it's either their cars that they're parking in, or some of the larger motor home vehicles. And one of the things that was implemented was, as Melody had mentioned, about ticketing, so all these years, there had never been, you know, a sign that said, "You can't park here after a certain hour, because there's sweet three being street sweeping."  And so within the last year or two, I think it's been about two years, the signs have gone up. And so what I noticed is that people who are living in their vehicles, they are having to move from side to side on certain days, in order that they don't get ticketed, and sometimes it doesn't happen so easily in that way. There are some times the vehicles don't move, like they don't operate There's some issues with the vehicle. And so they don't get to move in a timely, and they do get the ticket. I don't want to necessarily call it harassment, however it is, it does deliver a level of anxiety, and it also for a person or for family, they also are never getting out of the rut, because it's the needing to pay this ticket. And do I pay this ticket? Or do I get some food to eat? Or how do I figure it out. So all of that has been said is, when we, you know, brought ourselves to the table or came to the table to begin our safe parking program. We wanted to address that that safe space where, you know, people don't have to worry about am I going to get ticketed, you know, am I going to need to move my vehicle from side to side, because the street sweeper that doesn't always come. Just kind of that peace of mind. And also in the development, I just sharing a story. I just remember as we were designing the evaluation, so I test it out on others. And one of the person stated, "I wish I had this. I wish this existed for me and my family when we were homeless." And they experienced that moving from side to side, having the anxieties not knowing who's around not sleeping or resting properly. And so we wanted to have a design where people could rest properly, have that safety with security, have the bathroom access on the site itself, and not be so large that people are lost and still not feeling safe, but small enough on a faith based grounds small enough, so that, you know, and so that it's manageable, and it further ensures that level of safety. So it's a temporary solution. But it's well worth the temporary solution to to the unhoused.

Melanie McNulty  08:14

Along with the case management intervention, as well. It identifies other barriers that they may have, whether it's medical needs that they was unable to get met previously with, that's what we do have our health services team to hear, to incorporate, as well...maybe they need some employment systems, not enough income, and those other ways to link them to more permanent housing or market affordable housing, as well. So there's other needs that we identify: our loan, along those lines as well, while they're there in a safe haven also like to share mentioned with the sleep deprivation, from having to move from another place to another, because certain areas are unauthorized. Now you have to search another location and go through the same thing. And maybe some people have to do it three or four times in the nighttime, just to get two hours in two hours there. And it's more widespread than people think of people that are sleeping in their vehicles. It's just that it's more in different areas and you don't see it in one location. And I here at the Trinity Lutheran Church, it became like a little community it became like so family oriented. They are together, they watch over each other, they help each other out. When they when they find one resource they share with each other. They knock on each other's windows to make sure that everyone is safe, and there's no other outsiders coming in. They they are really such a wonderful community and support for each other as well.

Tashera Taylor  09:52

Which is part of the design and I wonder if Catherine can talk a little bit about the fellowship pieces, which we added to our Safe Parking, to definitely build that sense of community.

Catherine Cheung  10:06

Each month, we have a fellowship meeting and we gather, although safe packers and all the agencies that participate for this program. And then actually we have a very nice meeting with males. And then we talked about the issue that's happened this month, and what we can do for them. The programs were successful that we wanted to expand it a program and we would have invited you to pass that in a public hearing, to advocate to expand a program in San Gabriel Valley. Engage this program in all the church and commercial areas and multifamily areas for safe parking program. And I think this is great. And he helped a lot of people, especially during the COVID-19. A lot of people need to some way to stay temporarily, in order to find a permanent housing solutions.

Melanie McNulty  11:11

They have to take people probably ask them, why they're under shelters? Will we? shelters are full shelters always accommodate multi families? Shelters are not available in certain areas.

Tashera Taylor  11:24

Shelters don't always work for people.

Melanie McNulty  11:30

So I mean, there's so many reasons. And I know again, those are some of the questions that people may ask why you just can't put them to shelter. And again, those are the reasons and responses as to why there's so many different reasons for that. But one of them is it's just not enough shelters to accommodate the amount of parkers that we have there in LA County, but in particularly in the city of Pasadena itself,

Damien Newton  11:53

that you said something interesting there, which is something we talked about a lot five years ago about how shelters don't really work for everyone. And a lot of people would actually prefer to stay in their car than to go into a shelter. One of the goals of what you've did is to make sure that there's a system for the people that are choosing to live in their car, rather than to go into a shelter and still sort of advance through our incredibly complicated, you know, county system to move into either in term or if they're at a point in their life where they're able to be in permanent shelter. One of the things that surprised me several years ago, and maybe partially just because of my preconceived notions partially because it was a VA lot that I visited, was the number of kids and families that were there. I happen to visit on a night where LAUSD was there. Basically doing a headcount making sure that any families that were there knew what school their kids could be going to and all that sort of stuff. And there was probably somewhere between a half dozen and a dozen school aged children that were living with their parents, either in RVs, or in one case a van. Is it something that you're seeing still within the areas where you're working, where it's not just like a single person or not even just sometimes a married couple or someone in their dog that you're seeing full? Functional three, four person families?

Tashera Taylor  13:23

Yeah, so in our domain, and our and our specific safe parking program, it's uniquely designed in that it is it's the single individual. It's adults only. But this is what we really appreciate about our design is that we work with a whole site and the whole site can determine, do we want to have families at our safe parking or individuals only can they have pets? Because this is a pilot program. It began as a pilot program where it was a little bit under the radar, okay, a lot under the radar, in Pasadena that we decided on adults only. And that's that's where we began however, we want to expand and we want to get again the input and the from those hole sights, if they would like to have you know, families with children or females only or men only or, you know, whatever the population are willing to serve or mixed. The small bite size, are there families with children that are homeless that are sleeping in their vehicles? Yes, that still that exists and that is very real in our safe parking that we run this particular one at this whole site. At Trinity Lutheran, it is adults only.

Melanie McNulty  14:44

I think safe parking is another great solution to that could be addressed in homelessness. If it does provide that shelter, when those other shelters are too full, or they cannot go, it does place them somewhere. And also, this is just issues that just need to be addressed that we can, as a safe parking program be able to aid in that be able to provide that security for those in that service to the capacity

Tashera Taylor  15:33

We would like to expand further and again, like to share is that there's a lot of faith based agencies that are willing to utilize and open their, their their parking lot, but then that's another issue.

Catherine Cheung  15:46

They have some people feel safer to live in their car than that dormitory, because they feel that they are all locked, and they're protected within the inside the car. So I think this is solutions, it doesn't cost that much compared to building a tiny house. And I think why not giving this opportunity, since they have a lot of like a vacant parking lot overnight. If the church are willing to provide the facilities, and I think this is a proven solution.

Tashera Taylor  16:26

I know that we mentioned faith based, we're not proselytizing to anyone at all. It's just the faith based organizations, the churches, they want to be involved, they want to be a part of solutions. And the church that we partnered with, they were ready to go and saying, "We will provide volunteers and if we need to provide a snack through the night or in the morning, then we'll do that. But we just want to be a part of the solution." And we didn't ask them to bite off, you know, again, 25-100 spaces. I know that Catherine mentioned the number of parking spaces that this church has. We we started with a size of five, basically five parking spaces, allowing space between for people to, you know, be able to park and not worry about someone parked next to them. And again, it's just manageable, this bite size. Can we go up to 10? That was more a recent, you know, decision to go up to having 10 parkers  and that decision making, the parkers the vehicle dwellers themselves, they were involved in the decision making. And so while the church itself is like, "hey, we have we can do 10 parking spaces," the vehicle dweller said, "How about we start at seven.?" And so that's what we'll do first before we just make it too large, because this is our community that we formed. We're looking out for one another. We feel safe with one another, as we're working our way as we're on the path to finding or securing permanent housing.

Damien Newton  18:03

You discussed the intentionalness of trying to help foster community amongst the people participating in the program. Can you talk about some of the ways that you you work with the Parkers to sort of create a community because the social aspect of the program is something that is a little new compared to what I was talking about half a decade, half dozen years ago?

Tashera Taylor  18:46

Yeah, that social aspect really was brought in as those fellowship meetings that Catherine might have mentioned a little bit earlier. Originally in the design, we had it where it was safe place to park and security is provided and a restroom is provided. And these are the hours to be there, you know, to come in at seven o'clock and to leave the premises at least by 7am. So those were kind of the hours. However, there's another program that's not safe parking that they offer fellowship types of meetings. And so I don't want to say we invented it, you know, but we adopted it, definitely. On our evaluation...the design on our valuation was we want it to build community, but we didn't have that built in the design. And so when that kind of came to light, we said, "oh, we will adopt fellowship as a part of our design." So once a month, we convened together the parkers. They come all together and they give voice to what's happening. If they've seen any suspicious activity, they report it, they let us know And in that fellowship meeting, it's not just the parkers. It's the vehicle dwellers themselves as well. The caseworker is there and helping facilitate. It's the the whole site... volunteers.... that are also present there. And then it's the committee, the parking safe parking committee, they are present there, and there is this food fellowshipping together kind of bonding together. The vehicle dwellers, from what I've gathered, from the experience on just kind of listening in a little; they have this sense of community that is formed. They feel very much so supportive. In fact, one of the vehicle dwellers of the program, had a moment where she had become ill she she was in the hospital. And while she was in the hospital, so she wasn't in the parking, she was in the hospital, the vehicle dwellers visited her. Others a part of this community that is formed, called and checked in on her. And she was so moved by the response by the, "hey, this is a this is a family basically, this is my family that has called and they care about me, and they're checking in on me and making sure that I am good." They went to visit her some of the of the this fellowship group went to go and visit her and she just felt loved and seen and heard. And that's what the fellowship group does. It's fostering that sense of community. When we had the city council meeting, which Catherine mentioned earlier, the vehicle dwellers were there. The committee members were there. The whole site was there. And so this community together coming to advocate for safe parking, people with lived experience, and the program itself, seeing that this works were present and being a voice before the city council who are making decisions. We really believe that a sense of community has been formed. And we also believe that the future advocates for , these issues are, are forming or budding through our safe parkers.

Melanie McNulty  22:17

And then if you think about it, when she said that they build a  Community; these people came with no support system whatsoever. That means no family support, no friends support, because if they had that support, they wouldn't be there. So be able to live somewhere with one of their families, or one of their friends. So they built that support system amongst each other. And that's what made that design another unique piece, and in the fellowship, and not to evangelize it. The fellowship just means just coming together, talking about what works, what doesn't work, their goals and objectives, what are their housing goals? And identifying the barriers? And how can we the case managers, be able to assist them in those in those barriers and provide that intervention. So it just builds a trust system as well. You build that rapport, you build that relationship. Amongst each other, being together congregating eating, discussing their goals, and things like that, just bring on a whole different community. As Tashera  had mentioned the stigma, to as well, when they were there at the count at the City Council. And they stood up and they talk, they wanted to be seen, like, look at me. Do you know the stigma? I didn't have any mental health issues until now, because I am sleeping in my vehicle. I'm not on drugs, I'm a normal person that just lack the financial means, that lack the family support, and just don't have no support system, look at me. I'm just like you. And so they wanted to remove that stigma of that these people, people aren't just out this, there's a lot of substance abuse issues are going to be in the parking lot using drugs. And that's very well not the case. And however, if we do come across a situation, more isolated that is like that, that will address that too. And we will still work with them. We'll get them in the appropriate resources, we'll link them to our health services department. We'll get them into some substance abuse treatment, we'll continue to work with them too as well.

Catherine Cheung  24:22

Different program like work very well and blended to the neighborhood. We often hear a serious complaint from the neighbor. And one of the reasons is because we hire our safe security patrol, and each night we have a report, send send it to us and received a report and we review it they have no such as unusual finding during dark night is quite safe and quiet. 

Damien Newton  25:00

So believe it or not, we've been talking for almost a half hour, just about 25 minutes at this point, which is a little long from one of our podcasts. But you guys have been wonderful guests. I would like to ask, and we do understand this as a pilot program. But when I was doing the homelessness series, not just the safe housing series, we heard over and over and over again, that the biggest frustration and challenge is the lack of affordable long term housing for people that are in the program. That they get far pretty far along. They sometimes even into temporary housing, and then it bottlenecks. And then sometimes there's 90 Day limits, which probably doesn't exist for safe parking like it does for some shelters for people to move on. And there's no housing available, is I'm assuming that things have not dramatically changed that all of a sudden, there's a ton of available housing, and people just are able to move right through the system and get right into an apartment or something like that quickly and easily.

Melanie McNulty  25:57

So far, we've been successful. You know, Pasadena is really a great city. And we have we partnered with some very good community partners in a matching process. So I will let Catherine tell you how many has been matched to housing cool. How many is going to be moving pretty soon? And how many that we're working on? So again, partner with these other service providers as well, has always been a great working relationship between our agency and the partner agencies in Pasadena. So so far, so good, we have not had any issues. 

Damien Newton  26:32

That's fantastic. 

Tashera Taylor  26:38

But yeah, we have not, we have not not only have we not had issues, and I say parking, we have issues here in our agency. Yes, there is lack. There does lack affordable, and it is a process. And it can take some time. But it gets done. 

Damien Newton  26:52

I put all that extra verbiage in to soften the blow and you're like, Yeah, you know, it's maybe one or two people every couple of months. So now I'm now it's been built up though. So I'm really excited to hear what Catherine

Catherine Cheung  27:07

Four safe parkers, and then matched or refer to the permanent housing program. One of the program is from Salvation Army. One of the ladies, she is already other finalized stage. She can get to key in the next two weeks to get the permanent housing. And for the rest, I think is process of getting the documentations Sometimes, you probably need some time to gather to documentations for the application to be eligible for the program.

Melanie McNulty  27:49

Correct. And like she said not and then actually and what is even more good about that: two matched right across the street from our safe parking lot. And she's going to be one of our volunteers. And as well as our safe parking expands. She wants to come across the street, and still be part of the fellowship, and still be part of that support system for the new community that comes into as well. So that is one of the best outcomes that I think that we've had: the fact that they were able to match into a new partner but directly across the street that is from our safe parking, in addition to be able to do some volunteer work and still stay actively involved into the to the safe parking program.

Tashera Taylor  28:46

And that's the beauty of safe parking. Right. Yeah, it's a beauty. We're looking at sustainability. So this is our participants that are now in sustainable housing, and also willing to give back and make sure that others who need this resource access this resource that was so helpful for them.

Damien Newton  29:04

You had mentioned earlier like built creating the next generation of activists but there's lots of ways to be activist that don't involve going to City Hall. This sounds really exciting. I thank you all for your time today.