An encampment at a C-Tran parking lot designed for people living in their vehicles will remain in place through the end of the year.
In an emergency meeting Friday morning, the C-Tran Board of Directors unanimously voted to extend the contract with the city from July 31, its original expiration date, to Dec. 31. The extension buys more time for people sheltering in place in their vehicles as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.
The SafePark Zone, located at the Evergreen Transit Center at 1504 N.E. 138th Ave., includes on-site bathrooms, hand-washing stations, trash facilities and security patrols. It’s operated by Vancouver Parks and Recreation staff.
The SafePark program was launched in April, as the pandemic cut off access to community resources used by people without homes. The idea was to give those living in their vehicles a safe site where they could quarantine without worrying about getting ticketed for illegal parking.
Dave Perlick, recreation manager for Vancouver Parks and Recreation, told The Columbian at the time that the program was designed for people trying to self-isolate and prevent the spread of COVID-19, just like people isolating at home are trying to do. It’s not a home base designed for drivers who want to come and go — with a few exceptions, like picking up groceries and supplies, participants are expected to stay put.
“If you have somewhere else to be at night, we ask that you don’t participate in this program,” Perlick said in April.
In an email to The Columbian on Friday afternoon, Perlick expressed relief that the board agreed to extend the agreement to the end of the year. The SafePark currently hosts 37 vehicles occupied by 42 people, he said.
The consensus at Friday’s emergency meeting also saves the city from having to scramble to find a third location for the SafePark Zone.
The program was first located in the Vancouver Mall parking lot. It opened April 4, but closed a month later at the discretion of Centennial Real Estate, the company that owns and operates the mall, when some of the mall’s retailers started eying curbside pickup.
SafePark resumed at the C-Tran transit center on June 10. Perlick said the interruption in service was unfortunate, and displaced the tenants who had come to rely on the safe place to park.
Shawn Donaghy, C-Tran’s chief executive officer, told the organization’s board Friday morning that the SafePark program has been successful at its new location.
He suggested a new end date of Dec. 31 to the board, so they can follow any new developments in the coronavirus pandemic and adapt accordingly.
“It provides us an opportunity to keep that sort of indefinite status until the end of the year,” Donaghy said.
Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who sits on the board, told Donaghy the city “absolutely appreciates the opportunity.”
City staff are accepting donations of personal hygiene items for the program’s participants. To arrange a drop-off of supplies, email firstname.lastname@example.org (individuals cannot donate food items).