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Evaluation of Jewish Family Service of San Diego’s Safe Parking Program


In 2018, Jewish Family Service of San Diego started its Safe Parking Program for unsheltered people
living out of their vehicles. It began with one parking lot and 30 spaces and has since grown to four
parking lots with a total of 231 spaces. It is now one of the largest SPPs in the U.S. As such, an
analysis of its efforts to date is instructive for local and national policymakers, elected officials,
stakeholders and researchers. As the homelessness crisis continues to escalate, it is instructive to
identify and learn from interventions that may inform our ability to address the challenge. At the
same time, the crisis of mass homelessness in this country has complex historical and structural
roots, and tackling it will require much broader public awareness and concern. To that end,
expanding the reach of the learning, and the diversity of perspectives looking at the problem, was a
priority for us.

Project Summary

The Jewish Family Services (JFS) Safe Parking Program (SPP) Research project was conducted by a team of researchers at UC San Diego, including Leslie R Lewis, PhD, MPH, Mirle Rabinowitz-Bussell, PhD, Stacey Livingstone, MA, and Todd Levinson, MPA, along with undergraduate students from accompanying courses on homelessness in San Diego.

This research consisted of statistical analysis of data from the County of San Diego's Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), as well as oral histories and listening sessions with clients and staff of the JFS Safe Parking Program. Overall, this research was motivated by four central questions. These questions include: (1) Who are the individuals and families who are enrolled in the Safe Parking Program and what are their stories? (2) Are safe parking programs a helpful and effective intervention in helping unhoused people to get safely rehoused and back on their feet? (3) How do safe parking lots and accompanying services fit into a larger solution to the challenge of homelessness in San Diego? and (4) What are the research, policy, and practice implications of this research?

Based on the work conducted by the research team, a number of key takeaways can be drawn. Clients of the JFS Safe Parking Program defy stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness with rates of substance abuse and mental illness being lower among JFS Safe Parking Program clients, compared to the general population. Additionally, clients homelessness was caused by both personal factors, such as losing housing due to shock events like divorces or violence, as well as structural factors, such as high economic precarity or a lack of available housing units within their budget. With rates of vehicle-based homelessness rising, safe parking programs offer an important option and give us an important tool in our collective toolbox when it comes to addressing homelessness. Finally, while safe parking programs are an important resource and a good means for fostering inter-institutional collaboration, mechanisms for increasing people's incomes, and for lowering or subsidizing the cost of housing, are critical for addressing the root cause of homelessness.

Project Documents

Project Team:

  • Leslie R. Lewis, PhD, MPH
  • Mirle Rabinowitz Bussell, PhD
  • Stacey Livingstone, MA
  • Todd Levinson, MPA