Framework

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Brother and sister Addison Dorsten, 59, left, and Christine Chapman, 65, eat dinner in their car at the Sonoma County "Safe Parking" lot at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Christine Chapman, 65, hunkers down in the car she shares with her brother at the "Safe Parking" lot. They've been living in the car since a flood drove them from their trailer along a river.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Frederick Helmke, left, hugs case worker and site manager Bianca Belmont at the "Safe Parking" lot. Helmke lives in a motor home he bought for $38.50.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Anthony Contreras eats dinner in his car at the "€œSafe Parking"€ lot. The program is seen as a "€œBand-Aid" on the issue of homelessness, but an important one.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Mark Prouty, 42, shaves after showering at the "Safe Parking" lot. Because it's at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, it has bathroom facilities, including showers. Prouty lives out of his Volvo wagon and has been camping out for more than 20 years.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Mark Prouty smokes a cigarette under a propane heater at the warming area at the "Safe Parking" lot. The Santa Rosa-area community has stepped up to help provide amenities such as heaters.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Cody Wertz smokes a cigarette at the lot in Santa Rosa. He, his girlfriend and their two dogs are living in his station wagon.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Dawn breaks at the "Safe Parking" lot. Over 20 vehicles were parked at the lot, which is available from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning through April 30.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane helped spearhead support and funding for the "Safe Parking" program, run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa. "Our mantra is decriminalization," Zane said. "It was just stupid to say it's illegal to sleep in your car. For some people, all they own is their car."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Genevieve Agrusa and Jeff King get ready to leave the "Safe Parking" lot. The homeless couple had lost their own motor home in a fire just days before and are now staying in the motor home of another homeless man, Frederick Helmke.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Anthony "TC" Contreras eats a bowl of grits after spending the night in his car at the "Safe Parking" lot. Officials see the program as a temporary solution for area homeless people, but an important one.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Lea Glynn, left, and boyfriend Cody Wertz wait for checkout time after spending the night in his station wagon at the "Safe Parking" lot. A stint staying at her ill mother's ended because she couldn't handle their two dogs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Lea Glynn and Cody Wertz pack up to leave after spending the night at the "Safe Parking" lot. They're living in the the Ford Taurus station wagon with their two dogs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Cody Wertz waits to check out at the "Safe Parking" lot. To participate in the safe parking program, people must abide by a set of rules.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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A new avenue for sheltering Sonoma County’s homeless

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors created the safe parking program in late January as an emergency response to freezing weather, making it one of just a handful on the West Coast. Similar programs operate in Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo and San Diego County.

But lawmakers here went one step further.

In what Sonoma County advocates for the homeless called a “pinch me” moment and a “watershed,” supervisors removed a ban on the “use of vehicles for human habitation” from the county’s anti-camping ordinance.

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