Safe Car Parking Program launches in Oakland, gives homeless living in their cars a safe place to be

A handful of churches in Oakland are opening up their parking lots to help homeless students and families living out of their cars.

The Safe Car Parking Program was announced Monday by the Interfaith Council of Alameda County, the City of Oakland, and Alameda County. The program is a temporary fix, but officials hope it will be a gateway to permanent housing.

Williams Chapel Baptist Church in Oakland is the first of four locations that will designate at least 10 parking spots for the program where homeless people can park their cars overnight without fear of being towed or bothered. Dr. Kenneth Anderson, Senior Pastor at Williams Chapel, said he wants their site to focus specifically on homeless students who attend Laney College and are living out of their cars.

“There’s so many high rises being built,” Anderson said. “There’s so many tents all around Oakland. How can we turn our head and not see all of the hurt?”

The program is available to people who are the registered owners of their cars. Once they apply and go through a strict selection process, the chosen applicants will be allowed to arrive between 7 and 8 p.m. to park during the overnight hours. People can stay for a 90-day period with the possibility of being granted an extension.

Rev. Ken Chambers said the participants must leave the premises each morning and actively take advantage of resources provided to them at the West Side Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland. He said there will be scheduled job recruitment, showers, laundry services, haircuts, and more.

In the coming months three other churches plan to open their parking lots as part of the program, Corinthian Baptist Church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, and West Side Missionary Baptist. 

Each site will feature an on-site security guard, a portable toilet, handwashing station, drinking water, and security cameras. The program was made possible by $300,000 provided by the City of Oakland and $50,000 provided by the office of Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan.

“Living in your car isn’t the best solution, but if people are going to live in their car, we need to have a safe program and one that can also move people to transitional housing and permanent housing,” Chan said.

Dr. Anderson said Williams Chapel Baptist Church plans to build housing on its property in the coming years. He said their participation in the program is an example of how they care about the community and not just members of their congregation.

“We are honored to be part of such a revolutionary endeavor to help those that are less fortunate by providing safe parking on holy grounds here at the Chapel,” he said.