Santa Paula: Community Forum on Homeless Services

By Sheryl Hamlin

Project HOPE (Helping Ourselves Progess Efficiently) hosted a panel of county experts in the field of homeless services on April 28, 2016 at the historic depot in Santa Paula. About 40 people filled the chairs by the time the meeting started.


The distinguished panel included:

  1. Randy Brown: Ventura County Behavioral Health, Project RISE
  2. Tara Carruth: Ventura County CEO’s Office: Continuum of Care
  3. Renee Higgins, MD: Chief of Hospital Operations, Ventura County Health Care Agency (VCHCA)
  4. Eva Hernandez: Santa Paula Unified School District
  5. Steve McLean: Santa Paula Chief of Police
  6. Fred Robinson: Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce and former city council member

Mayor Martin Hernandez, who is the council liaison to Project HOPE, introduced Pam Marshall, the group’s chair.

Mr. Brown spoke about Project RISE (Rapid Integrated Support and Engagement). As a Behavioral Health Clinician, Mr. Brown visits people in a non-threatening manner to see how he may help. They receive referrals and then attempt to locate the person. The referral process is described below which is taken from a county document.


Tara Carruth reported on homelessness as one aspect of the Ventura County Continuum of Care. Their team has specific HUD funding for homelessness and are now looking at gaps in services between departments and best practices for serving this population. They provide a “point in time” homeless count. She noted that Santa Paula’s count increased significantly between 2015 and 2016 from 20 to 56; however according to the chart in the April 27, 2016 Santa Paula Times, the number 56 is below the high of 97 in 2007. She said that the biggest challenge is finding landlords who will accept vouchers.

Unfortunately, she did not discuss the lack of Section 8 Vouchers in Ventura County. The waiting list is full and now closed as shown below in a recent screen shot of the county’s website:


One of their goals is to end homeless vets in 2016 and, she said, they have zero tolerance for unsheltered children. She discussed two trends in the “best practices” methodology: Housing First and Rapid Rehousing. Housing First is a new concept that says the person must get housing prior to improvement. Previously, it was thought that the person should improve before housing was provided. Rapid Rehousing is similar to Housing First, but specifically looks at displaced families.

Renee Higgins, MD, Chief of Operations, Ventura County Health Care Agency (VCHCA), described nineteen federally funded clinics for homeless. She noted that HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and HERSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) statistics differ in terms of definitions used to define and count homeless. She noted that one of the mobile clinics comes to San Sebastian Church in Santa Paula twice a month to provide nursing services.

Eva Hernandez, a school counselor from the Santa Paula Unified School District, added another definition to the homeless count: doubled up families. She said multiple families may share one space. They have 705 such families identified now in the district. Such conditions have negative influence on adademics and health. Many live in unsanitary conditions. Lack of English skills inhibits search for services. Many move monthly. There is no shelter in Santa Paula, so some are sent to Oxnard, which means displacing the students. Many have no transportation. There is no local referral center for services.

Steve McLean, Santa Paula Chief of Police, said that half of the homeless in Santa Paula have a history of criminal activity and violence. Saying it is not a crime to be homeless, the homeless do commit crimes including thefts, nudity, brawls, sleeping in dumpsters, public defecation and urination and account for 10% of the calls to dispatch. Business owners are disproportionately affected. Many with severe medical issues require his officers to spend hours drawing them to services. Santa Paula does not have officers dedicated to homeless like other cities. Prop 47 made such activity no longer a felony, but a ticket is issued. After so many tickets, they may go to jail. He pointed to the railroad tracks saying this leads to a huge encampment at the river bed. He would like to see one building where services are coordinated, instead of the distributed system now in place.

Fred Robison, Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce and former city council member, discussed his own family’s story with mental illness and homeless by talking about his son’s decent into schizophrenia and homeless. After 20 years of private and public treatment, his son has stabilized under the auspices of a local group home which provides support and manages his medicine. He said that the LA County jail is the largest in the country, housing 3000 mentally ill patients. Soon Ventura County will build its own mental hospital at the Todd Road Jail facility. He said that they still have not been able to “connect the dots” even with all the experts in various fields.

Pam Marshall wrapped up the conference describing her own bout with homeless in the 1980’s and a daughter with a substance abuse problem, who has since turned her life around via a Transitional Living Center.

Several questions about services were answered by Renee Higgins and Tara Carruth. Dr. Higgins said that they have recognized that “silos” exist, so have created a multi-agency task force to connect the dots via the Case Management Model and “Whole Person Care”, but they are restricted by the inability to find homes for patients. Tara Carruth said that some will take the apartments, but don’t want to spend half of their income or more on an apartment. Many don’t like rules, curfew and civil behavior like cleanliness.

A young woman from the audience who just moved to Santa Paula said she is homeless now. She asked if the SPPD had CIT certification (Crisis Intervention Training), to which Chief McLean responded affirmatively and in May will be having a three day education seminar on the mandate to fill out the crisis cards. She also mentioned the free breakfast at 133 Mill Street.

Mentioned in passing, the following is a current list (not provided at the meeting) of the area’s free food distributions:

  1. Community Assistance of Santa Paula, 133 N. Mill Street, Monday 8 to noon.
  2. CEDC at The Santa Paulan Apartments, 115 N. 4th Street, alternating Fridays from 3:30 to 5:00 pm
  3. Iglesia Del Nazareno, 3452 Ojai Road, Second Saturday
  4. Santa Clara Valley NFL, 217 N. 10th Street, 2nd and 4th Fridays, 9 to 1:00 pm
  5. Lifeway Baptist Churdh, 673 West Santa Paula Street, by appointment only
  6. Spirit of Santa Paula, 121 N. Davis Street, Wednesday, 5 to 6:00 pm
  7. Spirit of Santa Paula, 123 N. 10th Street, Saturdays, 4 to 5:00 pm
  8. Spirit of Santa Paula, 117 N. 7th Street, Saturday, 9:00 to 10:00 am
  9. SVDP/St. Sevastian, 235 N. 9th Street, Thursday, 1:00 to 4:30 pm
  10. Temple de Milagros, 133 N. Mill Street, Tuesday, 9:00 to 10:00 am
  11. Valley Community Foursquare Church, 611 East Main Street, Tuesday, 9-11:00 am
  12. Produce Outreach, First5, 217 N. 10th Street, First Friday, 9 to 10:30 am


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