Vehicular homelessness has grown over the past decade as housing costs soared, congregate shelters are overcrowded, and other forms of shelter has declined. Sleeping in one’s car has its own challenges, such as feeling unsafe, parking in unknown areas, being awoken by police officers or store managers, and a restricted access to basic needs. Colorado Safe Parking Initiative saw the need to provide a space in the community where those living in their car can access resources and have a place to park without fear. Colorado Safe Parking Initiative partnered with The Center for Housing and Homelessness Research to measure participants’ view of the program, program effectiveness, and if such a program assist individuals transition into stable housing.
Participants at the five Safe Parking locations were asked to participate in an intake (n=37) and exit (n=18) survey. Participants were invited to participate upon entrance to the safe lot; participants were given a $20 Walmart gift card for each survey response. Responses were collected from July 2020 to April 2021. Responses were analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative measures to provide a robust, mixed-method analysis. Qualitative analyses involved open-coding by a team followed by consensus building to identify themes. Bivariate analysis of quantitative data were conducted through SPSS to determine statistical significance using paired sample t-tests.
Of the 37 participants, 51.40% were male, 43.2% were female, and 5.4% were transgender. The majority of participants were white (70.30%), with 16.2% identifying as Multi-Ethnic, 8.1% Black, and 5.4% Native American.
Paired sample t-tests were conducted between intake and exit surveys. Participants indicated that feelings of safety increased after joining the Safe Lot (M=-1.687, SD=1.621, p<.001). Additionally, participants also worried less about their belongings when sleeping after joining the Safe Lot (M=1.313, SD=1.922, p=.015) and worried less about as their physical safety while sleeping after joining the Safe Lot (M=1.471, SD=1.505, p<.001). Qualitative data indicates that participants who stayed at the Safe Lot felt safer than at a congregate shelter. Concerns over congregate shelter include COVID-19, privacy, security, people who use substances, and curfews. While staying at the Safe Lot, participants can remain with their partners and companion animals, unlike at congregate shelters. This promotes safety and comfort in a vulnerable environment.
Conclusion and Implications:
Preliminary findings indicate that people benefit from staying at a Safe Lot. Feelings of safety and peace improve when a person experiencing vehicular homelessness rather than staying in an over-night congregate shelter. Additionally, while staying at the Safe Lot, individuals can remain with their partners and companion animals, unlike at congregate shelters. This promotes safety and comfort in a vulnerable environment. This data provides the basis for continued policy innovation for people experiencing homelessness and to transition from the traditional congregate shelter model. This data was used to provide community partners with in-depth understanding of how the Safe Lot model provides a safe environment for those experiencing vehicular homelessness.