Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez on Homeless Program

 

 

 

By George Miller

Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez recently talked to us about the city’s homeless program effort.

Topics Covered were:

1. Status of new shelter/navigation center, Armory move-out

2 Alternative shelter possibilities

3. In context of overall homeless strategy

 

Oxnard, like many other cities, has struggled with a growing homeless problem, even as the economy has boomed. Reasons for this include: more serious addiction problems, mental, emotional and physical disabilities, abuse, social changes, lack of education and more. Spiraling housing and living costs are also a factor. Legal and legislative changes have helped further aggravate the situation.

The city has only had ad hoc approaches until more recently. Things changed with the appointment of a Homeless Coordinator, Housing Director and City Manager who place a higher priority on helping the homeless, with the support of the City Council and Homeless Commission.

 

So, first …

1. Status of new shelter/navigation center, Armory move-out

Existing Shelter

This has actually been renamed a “Navigation Center,” to place more emphasis on the real goal of helping to move or “navigate” clients from their current dire straits into more stable, happier and hopefully productive, situations, with the “shelter” merely a temporary waypoint along their journey.

Oxnard has one of only two public homeless shelters in the entire County of Ventura (The City of Ventura also has a 55 bed facility). There are also several private facilities. Currently, it is housed in the National Guard Armory on K Street and accommodates 110 people. It is not especially well-configured for living. In addition, it is in a runway protection zone adjacent to Oxnard Airport, meaning that there are potential emergency hazards from aircraft crashes. While there is no hard deadline to vacate, it is a non-conforming use. The airport authority is exerting pressure on the city to vacate the armory shelter because it is impeding their funding for unrelated grants, per Ramirez. It is possible that the county might cut off funding if the shelter isn’t moved.

The facility is currently operated by Mercy House, for about $2 million/year. Until last year, this was mainly a  seasonal overnight shelter with very limited services. It is now year-round, 24/7, with more services offered. Ramirez said that case management services are available there, but another source told us that guests must go elsewhere for some services.

So, the Armory is only a stop-gap solution until a better, long term one becomes available.

Saviers Rd. Navigation Center Proposal Dropped

Last fall, the City proposed taking over a building on Saviers Road, a bit south of 5 Corners, for a homeless Navigation Center. The plan immediately ran into a wall of opposition from adjacent residential neighborhoods, citing concerns about public safety, quality of life, traffic, parking and more. But it would have been a fairly quick turnaround, cost-effective approach. It would have cost about a million dollars for the buildout and $22,000/month rent. Operating costs would have been roughly the same $2 million a year that the current Armory Navigation Center operation costs.  The City abandoned that plan and elected to pursue a new plan/site downtown near the library ….

Current Proposed Downtown Navigation Center

The city put out a request for proposal for a homeless navigation center. It looks like Mercy House got a two year contract to do that, regardless of where it will be located.

Currently the city is proposing to put it in a downtown 6 story new construction facility on 2nd & B St. and is now doing public outreach/meetings to get peoples’ ideas and reactions. Ramirez said that there is both support and opposition. No contracts have been signed or would be until this ongoing public outreach process is completed and decisions have been made, he told us.

Rendering of Proposed $34 million Oxnard “Navigation Center” for Homeless. Source: City of Oxnard.

 

The proposed project would provide a “Navigation Center” facility to provide services to clients. It would include:

  • 110 bed mixed use residential shelter complex
  • 40 bed recuperation center
  • 54 bed revenue-generating supportive low income apartments

Total capacity- 204 clients, plus office accommodations for support staff.

When asked what it would cost to provide the  facility, he replied that the estimate is about $34 million, but this isn’t finalized. He said that a developer would take ownership of it and that it would be financed by tax credits, state grants and local (city and county) funding of about $3.5 million.

Ongoing operating costs would be about the same as the current rate of about $2 million annually for the navigation center. This doesn’t include whatever other non-city agencies provide for case management services, or operating the other sections. About half is borne by the city, but most of that has grant funding.

This comes out to $168,317 per bed (mostly from tax credits and grants) development costs, plus $18,218 per client annual ongoing costs for the shelter portion. It was unclear what the recuperation center would cost to operate. The low income housing  section would actually be a revenue source, financed by tenants, tax credits and any other public assistance/subsidies provided. Director Ramirez points out that cost per bed we stated above can be misleading, because shelter beds and recovery beds are mixed in with total low income unit capacity. Because costs provided weren’t detailed, we can’t break that down for you here.

The developer would be Community Development Partners, which builds affordable housing and navigation centers. The recovery center might be run by National Health Foundation, Mr. Ramirez said at the 3-4-20 Inter Neighborhood Council meeting. The city would also work/is already working with Ventura County Health Services.

Director Ramirez was unable to say exactly when all of this would happen, since the outcome of the public outreach and final decisions on design, developer selection, project planning and scheduling, and financing cannot yet be known. He told me that “there are a lot of moving parts.”

Homeless Commission Chair Peggy Rivera said she is concerned about the proposed project’s downtown location and high cost, but sees some good points in it, too.

At the 3-4-20 Inter Neighborhood Council meeting, board member Jackie Tedeshi asked what happened with the Rose Ave site and is the proposed downtown facility 110 beds? Ramirez responded that there are additional beds in the recuperative center and there is also the low income housing. Re: Rose Ave/Gabriel House possibility: He discounted it almost immediately. Didn’t seem viable. There is already an active operation serving people. He is already in discussion with them for a family shelter redevelopment possibility.

Another speaker asked about the new anti-loitering/camping ordinances and how local businesses are reacting to the project. But she is concerned about it attracting undesirables and adversely affecting businesses. Ramirez said business reactions were “mixed.” He said the downtown business board voted to support it. He said some felt better to have the homeless “managed” in the center. He said opposition seems primarily from residents. He said that proper design, building and operation are important. He finished with saying that without such a facility, it will be harder to attract business and investment.

2. Alternative Shelter Possibilities

So far, the city:

  • Has been told that they must vacate the K Street Armory shelter facility
  • Rejected the Saviers Road navigation center proposal, mostly based on strong public opposition
  • Is evaluating the downtown facility proposal
  • Has engaged Mercy House to run the navigation center
  • Had been in discussion with Shelter USA for a much lower cost and larger solution
  • Has engaged Salvation Army homeless outreach services

We learned from the formerly homeless, now homeless advocate, Lang Martinez that Shelter USA solicited, then was asked by the city to learn about its project requirements and say what they could do. They were previously unaware of the city’s need or RFP. Company President Craig Mc Ilroy told me he hadn’t seen and wasn’t even aware of the RFP’s (Request For Proposal) existence.  They met with several city personnel, he said, on October 9 and sent what he said was a “proposal” on 11-7-19. It didn’t look to us or Ramirez like a true proposal, but did lay out how many and what type of units they could build for how much on sites identified by the city. Mcilroy says the city has not asked for anything further from him.

Martinez also told us that the city discussed the possibility of building these units at locations on Rose Ave. and Del Norte Blvd. Housing Director Ramirez confirmed that and added more details. A Shelter US partner confirmed it as well.

It involves two sites:

  • At the existing site for Kingdom Center/Gabriel house on Rose Ave.
  • A vacant 5 acre lot near the foot of Del Norte Avenue.

Without knowing if there is an “apples to apples” comparison between Shelter USA’s numbers and the downtown facility estimates, the former’s appear on the surface to be much cheaper and involve using modularized converted cargo containers vs a higher-end, custom-designed specialized facility.

For the Rose Ave Gabriel House site, Shelter USA envisions 19 housing “modules” accommodating between 48 an 128 residents, made up of a maximum of 20 families of four, plus another 12 families of four in low cost housing units, which would generate $216,000 in rental income annually.

Gabriel House on Rose Ave. Photo by: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

Homeless Commission Chair Peggy Rivera said she thought the Rose Avenue site was an excellent location and that she thought highly of Director Sam Galluci and his women’s shelter operation. She said it is near services and a bus stop and not adjacent to residential neighborhoods. But Rivera expressed concern that the women/children’s operation might be lost if the site was developed for other purposes.

Mc Ilroy said that the per person housing cost would be far lower than the proposed $34 million downtown project and that they have quite a bit of flexibility to configure these to customer requirements. He said that these could be manufactured offsite and be installed in mere weeks. Of course, that doesn’t include approval, permitting, utilities, site prep, etc. He also said this could all be done at no cost to the city.

I asked where these are now installed and Mc Ilroy told us that they are only in the proposal stage with several prospects, including Riverside, LA and the OC Rescue Mission. He said his partner is a general contractor, but that they would work with other contractors, if desired.

He said that their designs maintain the structural integrity of the cargo containers resulting in higher strength. Mc Ilroy also said that these can be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and FEMA- compliant. The modules would come in studio, 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom configurations and can be combined.

We asked Mr. Mc Ilroy to send us some info on his product and received the following:

We Offer A Better Temporary and Affordable Housing

Concept That Provides:

Safety and Security

Fast Delivery

Affordable – Low Cost Per Unit and Per Resident

Self-Contained to Allow Independence

Many Units A.D.A. Accessible

Flexibility of Module Design for Better Site Efficiency

Low Maintenance and Operational Cost

Multi-Use / Re-Purpose Capable

Transportable

Environmentally Sustainable

Excellent Value for Public Investment

Advantages of Working with Shelter US

Site Planning Capability for Highest and Best Use of Site

Land Development and Construction Experience

Building Design

Project Management

Consultant Coordination

Creative and Integration of Best Business Practices

Understanding of and Compassion for End Users

Simple Design Objectives for Success

Needs vs. Wants — All components are evaluated so to provide the for

basic living needs.

Flexibility – Overall unit designs provide for multi-use of space and of

furnishings taking into consideration function of basic living tasks.

Value – Selection of components and systems that provide best cost

benefit for all stake holders.

Compatibility and Integration of Systems – Avoid conflicts that arise from

dissimilar materials, missing components, environmental impacts, or

products that do not work together.

Minimize Risk of Maintenance and Liability – All elements and systems

of a unit are evaluated for ease of maintenance and reduce risk of health

and safety standards.

Production and Delivery – All operations are established to provide

efficient production and delivery of units.

Quality and Workmanship – All phases of work to be of the best quality

and workmanship regardless of price point of product.

Available Options

Decorative Siding

Water Heating Solar Panels

Photovoltaic Solar Panels

Green Roof System

Higher Standard Interior Finishes

Microwave Oven/Vent Hood

Patio Cover

Respectfully,

Craig Mc Ilroy

Shelter US, Inc.

Direct: 949.858.1166

_________________

We do not know if there are any other possibilities floating around.

 

3. In context of overall homeless strategy

The city has assigned the Housing Dept the responsibility of dealing with programs for the homeless.

Oxnard’s overall homeless strategy is what is known as “Housing First.” When I asked Director Ramirez what that means to him, he replied that it involved delivery of case management services and “supportive housing” to clients. The latter could be overnight shelters; extended living shelters like the K St. facility, via private organizations like VC Rescue Mission, Gabriel House, Casa de Vida; transitional and permanent housing. In response to our question about “weaning people out of dependency,” he indicated that while the objective is to make people self-supporting and independently living, it is recognized that some may never have that capability. He included severely disabled, mentally or emotionally ill people in that category.He said that the opposite extreme are those who can be “self-resolving” after some initial support and stability.

You might find this video of Housing Director Ramirez’s presentation at the 3-4-20 Inter Neighborhood Council of interest (at about 20:00).

Ramirez estimates that for every one of the 600 or so identified homeless people in Oxnard, there are 9-10 more who are “couch surfing” (living at various homes short term), or on the verge of homelessness.The idea is not to build enough shelter space for all the homeless, but to get them transitioned into permanent housing.

Lack of affordable housing and good jobs are reasons which contribute to homelessness.

The city owns 540 public housing units. There are thousands more private, often subsidized, very low or low income units, plus many substandard units, excessively subdivided, converted garages and nonconforming uses. Ramirez did not have these numbers at his fingertips but promised to get back to us on that. The city has started an initiative to crack down on the nonconforming units, which would create even greater housing shortages until alternatives become available.

The city only has one position dedicated to homeless services- Homeless Coordinator. This position is currently vacant, since Mark Alvarado left a few months ago. Ramirez says they are looking to fill the position. He envisions using that position to manage contracts and relationships with service providers. 

Ramirez told us that the city engaged the Salvation Army to provide city-wide homeless outreach services- a two-year contract. Outreach involves contacting homeless people to assess what their needs are, formulating case strategies and referring them to needed resources to help them. Two people will be provided to do this.

At the 3-4-20 Inter Neighborhood Council meeting, a speaker asked how the city plans to deal with those who choose to stay on the street, take drugs and are “in our face on the streets.” Ramirez responded that outreach units will try to deal with that. County Health resources and One Stop will also be used. He said he doesn’t believe that anyone wants to be homeless, but rather those people have “traumas” that cause them to “make difficult decisions.” He even said “someone who wants to get high would prefer to do that in their own house, on their own couch.”

 

Endnote: Community Action in Oxnard forced to close- Help!

Community activists and homeless people I have talked to on the subject can’t say enough good things about Community Action on Richmond Ave, just off 5th Street. The NGO provides a host of service to homeless and very low income people, such as showers, storage lockers, a place to be, WiFi, laundry, mail drop, service referrals (including housing) and more. They also host the “One Stop” people, who help clients get personal ID and service signups, such as health care, food stamps.

But all this will come to an end, at least temporarily, on March 27, as they will run out of funding  to continue operations. Executive Director Suzanne Lopez Garcia says they were getting their funding from:

  • City of Oxnard
  • Community Services Block Grants
  • Ventura County
  • Private donations

Learn more about Community Action and/or donate, go here: https://www.ca-vc.org/

Lang Martinez (center) outside of Community Action in Oxnard last Sunday, surrounded by 2 local homeless people we were talking with. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

 

We thank Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez, Homeless Commission Chair Peggy Rivera, Community Action Executive Director Susana Lopez Garcia and homeless advocate Lang Martinez for their valuable guidance/assistance with this article.


George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.

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4 Responses to Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez on Homeless Program

  1. Peggy Rivera March 31, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Michelle thank you for your comments regarding Community Action closure I also think it is a shame and a great loss for our homeless population.
    I personally know Maria and Ninna and I have to agree with you they are two of the many workers that do very much to help the people that have fallen on hard times homeless or not even those that are at the verge of becoming homeless like you said one pay check away from fallen into the dark hole and once you do it’s so very hard to dig your way out of homelessness.
    It is only through the compassion of workers like Maria a Ninna that do all they can to make life better for those that are effected by this issue of homelessness.
    I’m sorry for those homeless individuals that have lost the only place they felt they could call home and receive much needed services such a loss for everyone, I appreciate your story because it’s real if there are people that think this could never happen to them make no mistake about it it could happen in a heartbeat some by there own bad choices but then there are the ones that are effected but this at no fault of their own loss of job, loss of housing a serious illness and by the time they try to understand it all it’s yo late and only have the question in their mind how did I get here.
    With the high cost of housing here in Ventura County, and a shortage of housing available it makes it difficult. I’m glad to hear you were lucky enough to get into an apartment.
    With almost 600 homeless persons in our City and only one shelter of 110 beds capacity the are still close to 500 still out in our streets.
    I welcome you with open arms to attend one of our monthly meeting I am the Chair of the Commission on Homelessness here in our City. I’d like you to contact me and come and give your testimony regarding your issues you experienced while homeless and where you are today I would also like to invite you to apply to be a Commissioner because I feel it would help many homeless feel they have someone that can truly relate to them and what they go thru.
    Thanks again God Bless You!

    Reply
    • Citizen Reporter March 31, 2020 at 11:10 pm

      There are other shelters available with open beds. Two of these shelters could increase capacity even more if demand existed.

      Reply
  2. Michelle Devantier March 8, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    To whom this may concern,

    My husband and, 2 dogs were homeless recently. If it were not for the Community Action, my husband and I would have had no where to shower at least 5 days a week, receive mail,use the wifi,did our laundry there,a place to go to the bathroom considering there are not a lot of places you can go to just use a bathroom and as a woman it makes that much harder, a place to be off the streets out of your vehicle, a safe place where the cops don’t harass, well that’s not true the cops harass you just for being homeless and a place to eat because of donated food. There were times that was the only food my husband and I would have that day. We were able to feed our dogs because of Community Action, receive medical care, flee medication, grooming all provided from a nonprofit organization. Those dogs are our children and I’m thankful they were there with us, they are our children. The most important thing that Community Action did for my family was help us to get into our place again. Ninna and Maria are two people who deserve a lot of respect. They are committed to the homeless. Now they are losing their jobs, Amanda already had to leave. This is a total disservice to the homeless and, the community. It is such a shame.

    The one thing the community doesn’t see or, understand. We didn’t want to be homeless. I had a career that I loved being a Registered Nurse. As saying goes one paycheck away from being homeless because, of the cost of living. Due to change of events and, everything went spiraling down. I had became disabled and, will be the rest of my life.

    I encourage the city to rethink closing of the Community Action. It will be a great disservice to the homeless.

    I thank daily for them, for now we are in our own place again. Somebody needs to fight for the people who are down, is that not what the bible tells you to help those in need. The funny thing is I always wanted to help the homeless, be an advocate for the those in need. I now understand from a different point of view.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts.

    Michelle Devantier

    Reply
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