IMACA and the Consortium of Care have been working on a safe place for the homeless to park their cars overnight at a location with access to restroom facilities. What sounds like a no-brainer hasn’t been. Working through issues from the community has been an on-going process and the topic at a virtual meeting last week.
Larry Emerson, IMACA’s housing and planning director, defined the need. According to the homeless count conducted in January, there are 121 homeless in Bishop, including 14 children, 16 veterans and 11 victims of domestic violence. Half of them live out of their vehicles.
Here’s some of the background: the Nazarene Church on West Line Street offered its parking lot as a potential site. Early this year, the Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit for the project. The conditions included a security plan.
The lot would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Participants would apply and be screened for one of the 15 available spots. An on-site monitor would walk the area at least once an hour. Cameras would be placed near the restroom and be monitored. Motion-sensitive lights would be placed on the east and west side of the lot. Participants would have the chance to be linked to other available services.
When COVID-19 hit, the Consortium jumped through the necessary hoops to get approval for a temporary overnight parking spot at the old Kmart lot but now wants to transition to a permanent site at the church.
The problem for some Bishop residents: the Church is adjacent to the Bishop Union High School Urban Farm. Like any working farm, the students tend to their animals at all hours of the day and often into the night.
According to Susi Baines, Consortium chair, the written responses were two to one in favor, but more of those against responded during the meeting including a cryptic comment from a former FAA farm student, “you can’t trust people like this.”
The program will still have to the Inyo Board of Supervisors and issues raised at the community meeting addressed in the security plan.
Here’s a run-down of some of the pros and cons raised and observations made:
- A Los Angeles Police Department veteran said Bishop PD calls dropped when the over-night parking at Kmart was set up.
- The same mask requirements and social distancing will be maintained at the facility; PPE will be provided.
- Anyone using drugs on site will be kicked out.
- The homeless are part of the community and any possible harassment could go both ways—FFA students could harass the homeless.
- Background checks are conducted to the extent they are legal. Megan’s Law allows for notification of sex offenders.
- There have been some altercations at the Kmart site. According to Bishop PD Chief Ted Stec there were 20 calls since May 5. Inyo Probation Chief Jeff Thomson explained the disturbances had been minor and were primarily early on as people learned the rules. “The people we talked to were happy they had a place,” Thomson said. “Those that weren’t happy went somewhere else.”
- That somewhere else includes public lands, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power land, City Park, community streets and parking lots.