Thousand Oaks Focuses on the Homeless at City Council Meeting; Will Form Ad Hoc Committee

By Kevin Harris

Countywide homelessness was the focus of Tuesday’s Thousand Oaks City Council meeting, during an unusual evening that had no public hearings and just one public speaker. 

The presentation, a Department Report called “Spotlight on Homelessness,” was a discussion presented by Deputy City Manager Gary Rogers, but also included input from Police Chief Tim Hagel, City Manager Andrew Powers, and other city staff. It was a timely topic, considering the official Ventura County Homeless Count begins this Thursday, February 22, 2018.

The discussion began with some 2017 statistics showing county and state trends of homelessness. Last year, for example, the homeless population in Ventura County dropped by 10%, to 1,152, while in Los Angeles County it increased by more than 23%, to almost 58,000. The state figure for California saw an increase in homelessness by 14% in 2017. 

But if those figures seem low, the reasons were explained a bit later during the presentation. Apparently, the numbers of homeless in the county or state depends, in part, on how one defines “homeless,” and the variation in the final figures can be considerable. In the following chart, you will see on the left side, how Ventura County and California are defining “homeless” for the current (and past) counts. The definition is narrow and literal, while the the figure on the right is more inclusive, and is used by some other agencies. That figure is considered by some, to be a more accurate accounting of the local homeless populations. 

Thousand Oaks Police Chief Tim Hagel explained that, while his officers are heavily involved in working with the homeless, police involvement is just a short term solution to a complex issue. 

“Homelessness is not a crime, however, some of the effects that occur out of homelessness are,” Hagel said. “When somebody violates the law, whether they live in a home or they’re homeless, they’re treated the same,” he added. He went on to say that 60 percent of his patrol officers contact homeless individuals two or more times per shift, and that on average, 85 calls per month are related to homelessness. 

The Thousand Oaks PD also has, for the first time, a “Vulnerable Populations Officer,” who himself has 135 homeless contacts each month, and who works closely with social services agencies. 

Aside from the police department, local homeless can receive support from the County, the City of Thousand Oaks, faith based and non-profit organizations and Lutheran Social Services. Community Development Grants for 2017/18 totaled just over $184,000. 

During the Public Speakers period, just one audience member had pre-filled out a speakers card to address the Council. Amy Yukich, a local resident, talked about how bad the homeless issue has become in Thousand Oaks. She said she has put her home up for sale, and is moving her Westlake Village business, specifically because of the homeless problem. 

Following Ms. Yukich’s comments came the Council’s comment period. Council Member Claudia Bill-de la Pena said right off the bat that she wants to form an ad hoc committee to deal with homelessness “that will perhaps lead to some homeless task force that will consist of private citizens, or simply a liaison that can be the middle person between social services and the government.” 

Council Member Al Adam, on the other hand, wanted to know why such little progress has been made in solving the homeless issue up to this point. “It amazes me how much we throw in resources at this problem,” he began. “Millions of dollars that we spend to tackle this problem for a relatively very small population here in Ventura County.

I’d love to see the number of what we spend per homeless person to make them not homeless. Why, after spending all this time, and all this money, does this problem remain intractable?” Adam asked. 

A staff member responded to Adam’s question by saying that home prices don’t match with peoples’ income, and that it is not only a local problem, but a national one. But the staffer also pointed out that national studies show the cost of permanently housing the homeless is far less than managing them while on the street, a fact which Council member Adam agreed with. 

Council Member Joel Price, who also supports the ad hoc committee idea, had a different take on the homeless issue. “Mental health, in my view, is probably the biggest contributor,” the councilman said. “We have a broken mental health system. It’s no secret,” he added. 

Mayor Pro Tem Rob McCoy agrees with forming an ad hoc committee too, but believes strongly in having the private sector deeply involved in any solutions to the homeless problem in Ventura County. De la Pena responded to McCoy’s suggestion by saying that the private sector is already deeply involved with the issue via local churches. 

The Council agreed to form the ad hoc committee when staff formally brings the issue to them at the next meeting, which will be on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, at 6:00 p.m.

To access the meeting agenda, or to watch the video of the meeting, please go to the following URL, then scroll down and click on “City Council:” http://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/watch-totv/past-meeting-videos.

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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One Response to Thousand Oaks Focuses on the Homeless at City Council Meeting; Will Form Ad Hoc Committee

  1. William Hicks May 12, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Funny how we don’t see anything on the Sheriff’s blotter indicating the relationship between local crime, shop lifting, burglaries etc, and the homeless population.

    Reply

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