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Mary sits in her van overnight Aug. 3 at Traxler Park’s north boat launch parking lot in Janesville. The city began allowing homeless people to sleep in their cars at the lot in August and later moved them to the lot at 105 N. Jackson St.

JANESVILLE

Few people have used the overnight homeless parking lot on Jackson Street since it moved to that downtown location Nov. 1.

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But officials say that likely has less to do with location than it does with weather and holiday spirit.

Since the city council moved the designated overnight parking lot from North Traxler Park to Jackson Street in October, the number of overnight users has declined steeply.

An average of four vehicles per night parked at North Traxler Park from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, according to a city memo.

An average of 1.13 cars parked per night in the Jackson Street lot in November. Only one vehicle used the lot in December, and the average so far for January is just shy of one vehicle per night, said Maggie Darr, assistant to the city manager.

The decline likely happened because family members of homeless people are more inclined to take them in during the holidays and colder months, said Jessica Locher, associate director of ECHO.

Less use of the lot does not mean homelessness is going away, Locher said.

ECHO finds and serves a number of people who sleep in their cars in other areas of the city, she said.

Once the weather warms up, Locher believes the Jackson Street lot will see more visitors.

The council moved the parking lot in response to complaints from North Traxler Park neighbors and business owners who felt uneasy about homeless people parking there and claimed the lot’s users engaged in criminal activity.

Janesville police Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan and Sgt. Dean Sukus said in October that many incidents police learned about were reported after the fact, with no evidence for police to investigate. They said it is difficult to actually link such incidents to homeless people.

Wednesday, Sukus said there have been “zero issues” at the Jackson Street lot.

The people who use overnight parking are not like the homeless people depicted in movies and TV, Locher said. Many of them are newly homeless and have never reached out to ECHO before, she said.

Having a designated spot for homeless people helps ECHO find them and connect them to housing and resources, Locher said.

At least 14 people who used the North Traxler Park lot were newly homeless and were connected to resources that could help them, according to a city memo.

ECHO enrolled one household in its rapid rehousing program. Another user received help getting money for a deposit on a new home.

The person had enough income for rent, but not enough for a deposit, Locher said.

Having an overnight homeless parking lot is beneficial even when the number of users is low, Locher said.

The overnight parking ordinance is effective until March 31. The city council likely will decide before then whether it should be extended.

City staff currently does not have a recommendation on whether the overnight parking ordinance should continue, Darr said. However, staff recognizes there is a need for the overnight lot and is encouraged by positive feedback from ECHO.

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