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Safe parking lot to open near El Cajon

A roadside that once contained a large homelessness encampment just outside of El Cajon is being converted into a safe parking lot for people who live in their cars.

The 16-space lot on North Magnolia Avenue just north of Greenfield Drive is expected to open either Wednesday or Thursday night, said Teresa Smith, CEO of Dreams for Change, the nonprofit that will oversee the operation.

A video posted by San Diego County showed the tents, trash, bicycles and shopping carts that once crowded the roadside, which since has been cleared and fenced off to prevent others from using the land as a campsite.

According to the video, everyone at the site was offered supportive services and housing vouchers, although it does not say how many people accepted the vouchers.

Dreams for Change operates two other safe parking lots, including one that accepts oversized vehicles. Jewish Family Service operates three safe parking lots in San Diego, including two in Kearny Mesa and one in Mission Valley, with a fourth in Encinitas.

The city of Vista also is considering opening a safe parking lot, which can provide a legal place for people to sleep in their cars overnight. The lots typically provide restrooms and a place for service providers to meet with clients.

Smith said people who live in their cars often are experiencing homelessness for the first time, and safe parking lots are a way of helping them access opportunities for housing, employment and other services that can save them from falling deeper into homelessness and living on the street.

The new site is on unincorporated land just outside of El Cajon. The county’s Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities, the Sheriff’s Department and Alpha Project participated in outreach services before the site was cleared.

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