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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Water Heating Solar Panels
Photovoltaic Solar Panels
Green Roof System
Higher Standard Interior Finishes
Microwave Oven/Vent Hood
Craig Mc Ilroy
Shelter US, Inc.
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/
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.