New Beginnings

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 21, 2024

New Beginnings’ Safe Parking program turned 20 earlier this year, a milestone you need to celebrate. On the other hand, I wish it didn’t even exist in the first place. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be homeless people living on the streets or in their cars. The latter is what the Safe Parking program addresses – and in the real world, the nonprofit’s Safe Parking has made a world of difference. 

Safe Parking is Santa Barbara’s groundbreaking program that provides dedicated overnight parking spots to members of the community who are living in their cars, utilizing parking lots that are busy during business hours, but idle at night. 

The program was the first of its kind in the United States and came about when former County Supervisor Susan Rose was talking with colleagues after a meeting behind the Santa Barbara County Administration building, and realized she was looking at an empty parking lot. She thought, “Wow, we can use this to address an unmet community need of people living in their vehicles at least having a safe place to park at night,” explained New Beginnings Executive Director Kristine Schwarz

The county lot was the pilot program back in 2003 and was under the aegis of a different nonprofit. New Beginnings took Safe Parking under its wing just a year later. Over the years, the initiative has expanded from just the 15 parking spaces at the county lot to more than 200 in 27 different parking facilities spanning Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Lompoc, and unincorporated areas of the South County. 

All that is needed to enroll is a driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance, with no other barriers. Those who qualify can enter the designated lot any time after 7 pm and must exit no later than 7 am the following morning. 

What gives the program the adjective in its title is that New Beginnings has implemented much more than just a place for an unhoused person or family to spend the night in their vehicle, even beyond avoiding tickets or being told to move by police.

“All of the locations are confidential, and we do our best to make them as safe as possible,” Schwarz said. “The program is very structured. We have two case managers who are full-time dedicated to safe parking. We have four client liaison lot monitors who work to ensure the safety of the clients in the lot at night, going through each of them around three times a night to make sure that everybody is safe and secure.”

Each of the lots has entered in a written agreement with New Beginnings, who has indemnified them against any liability. Since the program’s inception in 2004, there have been no major incidents or damage to any of the participating lots or neighborhoods.

The Safe Parking program not only provides a place for vehicle homeless to sleep, it also aims to assist them with transitioning to housing

Of course, the goal isn’t just to make sleeping in your car more comfortable. While there aren’t any limits to how long a person or family can be part of the program, the intent is to transition participants into traditional housing.

“The vehicular homeless tend to be higher functioning in general because they tend to be without housing for the first time in their lives,” Schwarz said. “We’ve had doctors, nurses, professors, lawyers, students participate in the program. We’re not a campground or a place where people can come and live permanently. It’s a shelter for people who are without housing who want to transition back into housing.”

How that happens is through New Beginnings’ comprehensive array of services. 

“We leverage other funding sources and other staffing, including housing retention staff, housing navigation staff, and our multidisciplinary team, which includes a behavioral health specialist, a substance use specialist, a nurse, an employment and benefits specialist, and an aging and senior specialist,” Schwarz explained. 

It’s working. 

Last fiscal year, New Beginnings’ Safe Parking program was able to transition more than 100 people, Schwarz said. 

Such success is among the reasons the New Beginnings program has served as the inspiration for Safe Parking initiatives nationwide. In fact, the nonprofit literally wrote the book about how other communities can implement similar programs. Its 64-page Safe Parking Program Manual, available on the New Beginnings website, outlines best practices, challenges, tips, and suggestions for municipalities interested in finding a way to safely park their vehicular homeless. The nonprofit also provides an extensive three-day training program.

“We’re the trailblazers in terms of working with vehicular homelessness,” Schwarz said. “Our program is always pointed to as the model. We have long experience with this population, and 20 years of data with all of the different types of challenges that present with people who are living in their vehicles. We’re just about to publish the second edition of the manual which includes research reports, and new information from other sites who met with us originally for technical assistance.” 

In recognition of the 20th anniversary, earlier this year local Congressmember Salud Carbajal introduced a bipartisan bill in Washington to provide dedicated federal funding to implement and expand Safe Parking vehicular shelter programs both at home and around the nation. 

Schwarz also just returned from a conference in Arizona with the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, composed of representatives of different types of shelters, spanning youth shelters, family shelters, drop-in warming centers and many others. She represented the vehicle shelter population with the organization that is seeking to create standards for shelter and transitional housing. 

“We created from scratch the standards that will be used as the foundation, which is really exciting,” she said. “I think Safe Parking will be one of the first, if not the first such program in the world to be accredited for a shelter.”

As with all such programs helping the homeless, however, the need for financial assistance just keeps growing, Schwarz said. 

“Safe Parking has a dozen grants that we have to cobble together along with private donations,” she said. “But it’s never enough. The need is still greater than what we are able to provide.”  


New Beginnings

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(805) 963-7777 ext. 144
Executive Director: Kristine Schwarz


We provide mental health counseling to low-income community members and end homelessness for individuals, families, and veterans throughout Santa Barbara County. Through four core programs, we serve approximately 2,000 people each year.

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New Beginnings is a shiny gem among nonprofits in our community. Their cost effective counseling programs have stood the test of time for more than fifty years. The Safe Parking Program for the homeless was the first of its kind and now widely replicated elsewhere. More recently, they are closing in on the elimination of veteran homelessness, a long elusive goal. No matter the program, they are remarkably effective in helping its many low-income and needy clients lead healthy and productive lives.
Glenn Bacheller, Advocate

Your Donations Help Veterans Stay Safe and Housed

New Beginnings is grateful for the grants and community donations to open its new, more efficient collaborative center last summer. But as the agency expands its services and takes on more staff, funding is still needed to support the growth of its work for all of its far ranging and desperately needed programs, including administrative and management staffing, equipment, training – all of which isn’t covered by government grants.

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MFT, Psy.D, President
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