Proposal would allow homeless to sleep in their cars in Janesville parking lot

Published: Jul. 16, 2019 at 11:46 AM CDT
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A proposal in Janesville is aiming to allow homeless people to sleep in their cars overnight in a designated parking lot in a public park.

Currently, an ordinance in the city bans people from sleeping in their cars in public places overnight from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"It's against city ordinance in any public area, so parks, on the street," said Cullen Slapak, Parks Director for the City of Janesville. "So any street, it would be against city ordinance to be sleeping in your vehicle."

However, Slapak said a vote from city council could change that ordinance, allowing for the homeless to sleep in their parked cars in a certain park's parking lot. He said if the proposal is approved, it would operate as a pilot program from August through October.

Jessica Locher, associate director of ECHO in Janesville, an organization that stands for "Everyone Cooperating to Help Others," said resources may not be immediately available to the homeless.

"All of the shelters here in the community have a very long wait list, there's limited voucher funding available for motels, there's also limited rooms available at motels due to families continuing to stay in motels after vouchers have been provided to them due to the lack of affordable housing," Locher said. "There's lots of different things working against the low income and homeless population here, so we definitely need all of the different ideas out there."

Locher said that public parks were considered as an option for overnight parking after no private groups offered parking space.

Additionally, Slapak said some parks in the area, like Palmer Park or Traxler Park, have been identified as satisfying criteria needed for a parking location.

"Being able to surveil it easily, electricity, restrooms available, little to no conflict with a recreation program," he said of Palmer Park.

Some parents approached in Palmer Park declined to go on camera, but many said they were opposed to the idea of having the homeless sleep overnight at the park, expressing concerns over the safety of children playing in the park, and park cleanliness.

Slapak said if this passes, police would patrol whichever park is selected, and even have a livestream of the parking lot.

The proposal is in the final stages, awaiting a vote from Janesville city council on July 22nd.