September 17, 2019

IKAR Becomes ‘Safe Parking’ Partner

Every Angeleno has seen the “tent cities”: homeless encampments under bridges, near parks and freeway entrances, and in long stretches of downtown streets. But what we may not have seen are the more than 15,000 people in Los Angeles who are dangerously close to becoming homeless. 

According to the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, 15,888 people spend nights in their cars, vans or RVs. Now, Safe Parking LA aims to work with community partners to provide a sense of safety for that vulnerable population. 

Last week, the South Robertson neighborhood council approved a bid by Westside spiritual community IKAR to become a Safe Parking LA partner. IKAR will allocate up to 10 spaces for vehicle dwellers in the lot of the property it recently purchased, on La Cienega Boulevard.

“IKAR is committed to living out the core values of our faith, including the belief that all people are created in God’s image, are deserving of dignity and worthy of love,” IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous said in a statement. The offer of a safe place to park is “a small but meaningful way for us to help our most vulnerable neighbors achieve a more dignified existence,” she added.

Safe Parking LA provides a port-a-potty and arranges for an overnight security guard. Host sites provide parking spaces, electricity, water and Wi-Fi. According to Safe Parking LA founder Dr. Scott Sale, “We welcome everyone.”

Sale started Safe Parking LA as a pilot program at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles, where he is a member, in April 2017. “Leo Baeck is the founding Jewish institution of Safe Parking,” Sale said.

IKAR will be Safe Parking’s fourth L.A. location. The other locations all opened this year, in Koreatown, at the Department of Veterans Affairs Campus in Westwood and in Hollywood. 

Some potential partners have expressed concern about community safety. But Sale said that participants are carefully vetted over the phone and in person before they are allowed access to a lot. He also invoked Safe Parking’s history in Santa Barbara and San Diego to allay concerns. 

“For the last 15 years, there have been 750,000 nights of safe parking between those two programs without one incident of vandalism,” Sale said. According to the Safe Parking LA website, San Diego had two instances of vandalism, but they were from people outside of the program. 

Sale is speaking with two Valley synagogues and a Hollywood synagogue as potential partners. And the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Valley College have approached Sale to talk about the program.

“Offering a safe place to park is a small but meaningful way for us to help our most vulnerable neighbors achieve a more dignified existence.”  — Rabbi Sharon Brous

Before IKAR’s program can start, the requested funding of $100,000 needs to be approved by 5th District L.A. City Council Member Paul Koretz. Safe Parking is listed under Koretz’s homelessness initiatives on his website. Sale said Safe Parking is always working on other sources of funding.

“We’re ready to go,” said Brooke Wirtschafter, IKAR’s director of community organizing. Wirtschafter also spoke about IKAR’s intention “to find connections and build community with the people who take advantage of the program, to find ways to build relationships and engage.”