Innovative Plan by College Students Aids Homeless

In San Diego there are more than 9,000 homeless people, according to Voices of San Diego. While many receive assistance from shelters throughout the region, some, because of fear or embarrassment, choose not to seek help through traditional means and end up living out of their cars.

University of San Diego student Nancy Vera saw the problem and worked with Dreams for Change to find another solution.

“The traditional shelter system would scare them,” said Teresa Smith, CEO of Dreams for Change. “They would say, ‘That’s not me. There’s no way I want to bein that environment.’”

Vera and Smith, a fellow University of San Diego student, developed the Safe Parking Program. They convinced a pair of churches and a youth center to rent their parking lots to the non-profit to provide homeless families and individuals living in their cars a safe place to park at night.

On the streets, homeless individuals are easy targets for thieves and face stiff fines if authorities catch them sleeping overnight in their vehicles.

The Dreams for Change program provides food, toilet facilities and caseworkers at each location. They also have access to computers connected online via Jetpacks to teach computer skills and access online job-finding resources.

Vera and Smith’s new service model is also green. It uses an existing resource – underutilized parking lots – and manages all of its files online, paper-free.

For the innovative work, Smith’s non-profit organization received a $10,000 Verizon Green Award, designed to promote sustainability. “This is a big help,” she said. “We’re not a typical program, so we don’t qualify for many of the typical shelter grants, even though we do everything a typical shelter with a roof does.”

The Safe Parking Program provides services to approximately 100 people at any one time. Smith says the award will help her expand the program’s reach to make the community a better place. 

Inline Photo: San Diego Reader. University of San Diego students Nancy Vera, left, and Teresa Smith, volunteer at the Safe Parking Program. Smith won the $10,000 Verizon Green Award which funds green solutions that support San Diego's homeless population.