San Jose nonprofit provides safe parking for city's homeless

SAN JOSE (KGO) -- Part of building a better Bay Area relies on feeling safe in any space we call home.

In San Jose, the nonprofit, Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment is helping to get homeless people back on their feet, by first helping them find a safe place to sleep.

The group recently pushed out a flyer asking, "Are you currently living in your vehicle? Do you or someone you know need a safe parking space?"

It's hard to miss the message on the bright yellow flyers, and it's even more alarming to learn about the growing number of people answering "yes" to both questions.

To really help the homeless, founding Executive Director Maritza Maldonado explained it's about taking real action.

"When we first started, I personally got in my vehicle and went around to every single faith community in this neighborhood and others, asking, 'Would you open up your parking lot,'" she said.

Four lots later, the Safe Park program is currently helping about 80 people. Guests using the program include both individuals and families.

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Soon, the group will have a fifth site for safe parking. Each site can host up to 15 vehicles. This does not include RVs.

"They are for people that are living in their vehicles that have been traditionally parking in the streets and safe neighborhoods," Maldonado said. "And being harassed by neighbors or police officers."

One of many departments and services by Amigos de Guadalupe works directly with homeless families.

Maldonado elaborated, "We run Safe Park, screening, placement and case management for the County of Santa Clara."

She explained she started the program with the county to move the work forward, finding different locations that will take Safe Park guests into account and build community.

After the flyer started to make the rounds recently, Maldonado said, "We've had at least 5 to 10 calls just today around, 'How do I get into Safe Park?"

She said there is a screening process.

"Your vehicle has to be registered, you have to have an active driver's license and insurance, and it has to move," Maldonado told ABC7 News.

Melina Telles is a housing case manager at Amigos de Guadalupe, working directly with those who rely on the resource.

"It contributes to their sleep and their attitude," Telles said. "And their overall happiness, I would say."

Telles explained, "It's important to understand how homelessness is very dehumanizing, because a lot of people don't interact with homeless people. A lot of people just walk by them."

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Through her work, Telles said she's able to provide people who are struggling, with necessary support.

"It's really hard to listen to those stories, but it's very rewarding to know that once they leave this office, they have the resources that they need," she said.

"I think providing them with a safe place to park alleviates a lot of that anxiety," Telles continued. "Like, 'Hey, I don't have to worry about my car being taken from me.'"

Smiling San Jose native, Ruben Guerrero offered proof. He told ABC7 News he became homeless for the first time, a year ago.

With Safe Park, he said police and others aren't knocking on his window with orders to move in the middle of the night.

"I didn't know that it was a crime to sleep in a car," he told ABC7 News.

Guerrero described his struggles over the last year.

"It's something different, totally different," Guerrero said. "I'm not used to it, but I'm making it."

He said he was born and raised in East San Jose. Adding, "San Jose was never this expensive as it is now. It's very hard. I understand, but I have to go through it and I just do the best I can."

He found Amigos de Guadalupe through his church.

"I had always been told, 'You're only one paycheck away from being homeless,'" he explained. "I know the feeling."

Guerrero also explained he feels for the families struggling in the same safe parking sites, "To see them sleeping in their own car, all kids, five people... It hurts me."

He added, "I wish I could do something for them, and I'm in a predicament like them."

Guerrero credits the nonprofit, and his faith for his positive approach to life.

Amigos de Guadalupe said building a better Bay Area isn't only reliant on affordable housing. They said it's also about recognizing the different levels of support for anyone struggling -- sometimes that means a safe space to sleep.

"I don't have to move no more," Guerrero told ABC7 News. "I'm in safe area and I don't have to worry about being harassed by anybody. I'm safe."

To learn more about Safe Park and other services offered by Amigos de Guadalupe, click here.

Take a look at all of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos.
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