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Koreatown's St. Mary's Episcopal offers a safe haven for homeless living in their cars




St. Mary's Episcopal church has opened up 10 spaces in it's parking lot for the homeless seeking a safe place to sleep in their cars.
St. Mary's Episcopal church has opened up 10 spaces in it's parking lot for the homeless seeking a safe place to sleep in their cars.
KPCC/Lori Galarreta
St. Mary's Episcopal church has opened up 10 spaces in it's parking lot for the homeless seeking a safe place to sleep in their cars.
St. Mary's Episcopal church's back lawn.
KPCC/Lori Galarreta
St. Mary's Episcopal church has opened up 10 spaces in it's parking lot for the homeless seeking a safe place to sleep in their cars.
St. Mary's Episcopal church back entrance.
KPCC/Lori Galarreta


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Reverend Anna Olson has been a Koreatown resident for over 15 years. Since she first moved to the community, she's seen it change before her eyes.

"There's always been poverty and income disparity in Koreatown, but I would not have been able to imagine that it would've gotten this bad," Olson said.

Olson is a reverend at St. Mary's Episcopal, a stucco church in the heart of K-town, nestled between homes, apartments and a community garden. At this small community church, something big is underway. 

St. Mary's has partnered with Safe Parking L.A., to open some of the 40 spaces in the church parking lot to a small number of carefully vetted homeless people. 

Not a free for all

Koreatown has become the latest battleground in the city's efforts to try and house the homeless. Over the weekend, protests mounted as residents came out against a shelter the city plans to put up near the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont. 

But for a little more than two months, St. Mary's has been opening 10 parking spaces in its lot every night to homeless residents who live in their cars. Each person goes through an approval process, Olson said. 

Part of the program is that people have to agree to be a part of a case management program with the local social service providers. There are permits that are given for a month at a time that can then be renewed, but people need to abide by a set of rules and guidelines.

Here's what the program looks like in practice:

The 10 parking spaces designated for the closely vetted homeless residents seeking to sleep in their cars.
The 10 parking spaces designated for the closely vetted homeless residents seeking to sleep in their cars.
KPCC/Lori Galarreta

Looking out for our neighbors

St. Mary's reached out to local law enforcement and the neighborhood council about the parking program, but they didn't go door to door to talk to everyone living in the community. With the security guard on duty, Olson said, she actually thinks the parking lot is more secure now so she did not expect complaints from residents. 

While St. Mary's neighbors may not be voicing concerns, other Koreatown locals are worried about shelters in the area. Over the weekend, residents came out to protest a shelter the city plans to put up near the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont. 

Olson understands residents' fears about the mounting homelessness problem in the city but she adds the situation is even scarier for those living on the streets, who are our neighbors too.

Those who can help should find ways to take action and help get more people into housing. The parking program at St. Mary's could set an example of this, Olson said, especially since there have been no major issues so far.

No calls to law enforcement, no crises. It really has been pretty smooth. I think one of our hopes is that our experience will encourage other places to take whatever steps they can take; everybody's situation is different, and so what we're able to offer with our parking lot is right for us. The scale of the crisis around housing in L.A. is not going to be solved by any one action, or honestly even by the best efforts of our local government. We're all going to have to put a hand in.