VANCOUVER, Wash. -- A church’s plan to help the homeless sleep safely is drawing mixed reactions from neighbors.
Homeowners near Laurelwood Baptist Church in East Vancouver told KGW they received a letter last week detailing the church’s plan to allow homeless people to camp in cars in the church parking lot.
“There is a problem. And we want to help,” said Laurelwood pastor Kevin Kruse in regards to local homeless families.
The church plans to use SafePark, a program from the Vancouver-based nonprofit GoConnect, to volunteer its parking lot as a place for houseless people with vehicles to park and sleep for the night.
“This is a safe place for them to be,” said GoConnect executive director David Bilby. By using the program, homeless people who sleep in their cars at churches don’t risk trespassing or being asked to move by authorities, Bilby said.
People who are eligible for SafePark are given background checks through Vancouver’s Council for the Homeless. Volunteers help coordinate arrivals and issue parking permits to homeless guests. According to Bilby, SafePark users must also have plans in place to find permanent housing.
Church leaders admit the plan has drawn the ire of some neighbors.
“[My] initial reaction was fear because we have little kids,” said April Silvery, who lives down the street from Laurelwood. “Not having really any resources except for a parking lot doesn’t seem like it’s helping very much.”
Several other neighbors were indifferent to the plan. “I just really see both sides,” said neighbor Ian Bow. “You really have to trust the vetting process to know who they are and make sure there’s no danger for the kids especially.”
“I get that it’s a great undertaking from their perspective, but it was a bit of a shock because we didn’t have much notice,” said John Burkart, who also lives by the church. “At first blush, we were reticent about it. But I presume we’ll have to see how it goes and see how they manage it.”
Other neighbors, who spoke to KGW off camera, voiced support for SafePark.
Kruse said he recognizes neighbors’ concerns. “This isn’t a homeless camp. This is not tents and trailers and fire barrels,” he said. “I understand the fears, I understand the concerns. But what we’ve seen at other churches has been fairly successful.”
“Since the program started, there’s no longer hypodermic needles. There’s no longer the nefarious activity that’s going on,” said Bilby in regards to how SafePark has positively affected other churches.
For now, Laurelwood doesn’t have a firm timeline as to when they’ll start the program. Kruse said that the church will test out SafePark for 90 days before deciding to move forward with the program for good. “We want to try to be a part of that solution,” said Kruse.