Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action (IMACA) have found a suitable location to implement a Safe Parking Project in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order, which requires counties and cities to provide suitable shelter for the state’s homeless population.
Individuals experiencing homelessness will now be permitted to park in front of the old Kmart building next to Taco Bell. There will be portable toilets and sanitation stations on site to ensure that those staying in the old Kmart parking lot are practicing the recommended sanitation guidelines provided by the California Department of Public Health.
Since the state of emergency was declared by Governor Newsom on March 19, 2020, both IMACA and Inyo County have been scrambling to find a suitable location to shelter the homeless.
According to Assistant Director of Inyo County Health and Human Services, Meaghan McCamman, the county played a supporting role in helping IMACA find a suitable location to shelter the homeless. “IMACA has looked for a long time for a suitable spot. We need to have social distancing available for the vulnerable populations if we are to fully reopen the economy. This is an IMACA project. When the governor put aside 150 million dollars to help shelter the homeless, IMACA, which acts as the Continuum of Care in the area was the recipient of some of those funds. The county has acted in a supporting role,” McCamman said.
McCamman emphasized that the Safe Parking Zone will not be permanent. “This is an emergency parking situation. This is not a long-term situation. I know the Continuum of Care is looking for a long-term situation, but the lease is set to expire with the lifting of the declared emergency,” McCamman said.
The lifting of the state of emergency would come from Inyo County Public Health Officer, Dr. James Richardson.
There is a big difference between IMACA’s Safe Parking Project that was set to be implemented at the Bishop Church of the Nazarene and the Safe Parking Project that will be instituted in the old Kmart parking space. Homeless people residing in their cars were only permitted to stay at the Church of the Nazarene from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now, the homeless who stay in the old Kmart parking lot, must stay in the parking lot unless they are performing essential business.
Housing and Planning Director for IMACA, Larry Emerson, said, “There is shelter in place order, and people parking at the lot are expected to stay there unless they are conducting essential business or if they recreating outside while maintaining social distance.”
Emerson says the parking lot will be patrolled by law enforcement along with IMACA staff. “Yes they [law enforcement] will be present. Additionally, IMACA will have 24-hour monitoring for the spot on site,” Emerson remarked.
There is also no limit to the amount of people who can park near the old Kmart building. The only requirement is that those staying in their vehicles must practice physical distancing. “There is no limit to the number of parking spots. We will expand and contract in order to maintain a safe social distance for those who don’t have a home to go to,” Emerson said.
The Church of the Nazarene Safe Parking Project which was being discussed before the pandemic allowed for up to fifteen vehicles to be on site.
According to the Housing and Planning Director, the number of portable bathrooms and sanitation stations will depend on the amount of people who are staying in the old Kmart parking lot. “This will be driven by how many folks we have using the parking lot. We are starting out with two standard portable restrooms and one wheelchair accessible restroom. Sanitation facilities will be available as well.” Emerson remarked.
With the latest decision to move to “phase two” of reopening society, Governor Newsom has said that local municipalities may be able to open quicker depending on whether or not they meet certain criteria. McCamman said multiple times to KIBS/KBOV News that one of those requirements is finding suitable shelter for the homeless. “The timing right now is really perfect. Local jurisdictions now have more flexibility, which allows them to move faster than the state. Having safe space available for the homeless is a part of the reopening process,” McCamman remarked.
The City of Bishop gave the green light to both the county and IMACA to use the old Kmart parking lot to shelter those without a place to go. Mayor Laura Smith, gave the okay on the plan, and said that if anything goes wrong, Bishop will have the authority to discontinue the Safe Parking Project. “The city has received input on the plan, and I signed off on it. This project is not in lieu of the Church of the Nazarene project. This is only temporary during the emergency declaration. As soon as this period is over, the project is done. Also, if there is any problem and the city does not want it anymore, then it is done,” Smith said.
Because of the declared state of emergency, citizens of the public do not have the opportunity to appeal the Safe Parking Project at the old Kmart parking lot.