Year-Round Homeless Shelter Planning at City Council

By Lori Denman-Underhill

Ventura is planning to open a year-round low barrier homeless shelter and its plans were discussed during the city council meeting on Monday, July 9.

Prior to the shelter discussion, other small items were covered.

City Council Communications

The Ventura Music Festival starts this weekend. Go to VenturaMusicFestival.org to see the lineup. It goes for two weekends. Councilmember Erik Nasarenko also suggested everyone checks out the Rubicon Theater and their shows.

Councilmember Christy Weir thanked all the city departments for their hard work, including cleaning up the city during and after the Fourth of July. She said they had very few incidents, even though she reported that there was an extra 30K people in the city of Ventura.

Public Communications

John Sanders spoke about commentary on homelessness. He said that he recommends showing dignity to those who are homeless. This past Wednesday, the New York Timeshad an article about the rich and the homeless crossing paths. The speaker said that the article quoted a homeless man saying that he reclaimed his dignity when someone granted him a place to sleep and do his painting. He said for everyone to uplift others by recognizing the homeless with dignity.

Laura Dunbar is working with Thomas Fire survivors and arranges meetings with them. She thanked the city for being involved, including Jeff Lambert.

Consent Items

Appointments Recommendations Committee has been very busy, Heitman said. Tonight they re-appointed and appointed persons to their positions in the Cultural Affairs Commission, Public Art Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, Downtown Parking Advisory Committee and Library Advisory Commission.

There were no public hearing items so they moved on to the formal agenda.

Formal Items

Dave Ward and consultants discussed the first item, Overview of Inclusionary Housing In-Lieu and Linkage Fee Study. Tonight is the launch of the In-Lieu and linkage fee study for affordable housing in Ventura. This study includes work and input from people with a variety of backgrounds.

Their linkage fee study will be consulted with the affordable housing programs and inclusionary housing programs, that need to be updated and put into one citywide policy. A planning commission review and approval will be completed in the fall. Then it will be approved by City Council in the fall and winter.

There were consultants, including Stephanie Hager, vice president from BAE Urban Economics. She said they are at the beginning stages so there are no findings as of yet. Affordable and workforce housing is the main focus of BAE. Hager said that a BAE team will look at the city’s capability of having affordable housing, its challenges and costs. The work ahead includes: commercial housing linkage fee; residential housing in-lieu fee; feasibility analysis and outreach. The next steps include: review of prototypes, first advisory committee meeting; and the start of data analysis to understand the nexus between new development and affordable housing need.

Recommendation to city council is to receive this overview.

The year-round homeless shelter was discussed as a formal item. Jeff Lambert, community development director began the discussion. He said that they have guest speakers from three jurisdictions representing a partnership, including the City of Ventura, County of Ventura and the City of Oxnard. Lambert gave an update on where they are as they consider a partnership between the county and cities. There is a Request for Proposal (RFP) for shelter operator (this RFP went live on the night of this city council meeting. There may be one operator for both shelters); a county funding match (the county would match funds to money raised by city and others); County Board of Supervisors direction and City of Oxnard shelter status (they are looking for a location for the shelter in Oxnard).

The emergency shelter overlay was listed, which included: eliminate the requirement to be located within ¼ mile of transit; it is anticipated that this shelter will be a “no walk-in entry” shelter (this means that people may not just walk into the shelter, they would be brought to it by the county, city or service provider); Ventura Police Department coordination plan (Lambert spoke about the importance of the police being available to the shelter operator); security plan, loitering control and littering plan; management plan for outdoor area; provide priority to Ventura homeless persons; and transportation plan. The shelter site of consideration may not meet the rule of it being ¼ mile away from a transit location.

It looks like the Ventura shelter will be a low barrier facility alike Oxnard’s. One can see this because also on this list it included: a “Lock-out plan,” which addresses how to house on-site clients that arrive at the facility inebriated, as Lambert said it is not safe to let them back into the community. There must be a plan to keep both the client and general population safe; a pet sheltering plan; Approval of Conditional Use Permit; and an annual report detailing compliance with the management and operations plan.

The potential location of the year-round shelter would be 2323 Knoll Drive. It is a four-story office building owned by the county. Council direction would be given on this evening of this council meeting. Lambert says this location makes sense because it is within the City’s emergency shelter overlay zone; it would have the no walk-in entry model – all those using the shelter would be referred through other agencies and part of the Continuum of Care’s Pathways to Home Coordinated Entry system and the space can accommodate an animal kennel and other amenities necessary to serve the current homeless population. There may also be room to hold a Safe Sleep vehicle program. It is an adequate size for the 55-bed cap that the city has said for zoning. The space can also accommodate service providers. Upper levels may be used for transitional housing later on.

City and county agreement terms are being discussed. This includes: jointly develop and release a request for proposals for one or more operators for full-service navigation/emergency shelters in the cities of Oxnard and Ventura; each city shall identify and secure shelters in their communities; and the amount of funding requested by the county for acquisition/rehabilitation and operation of each shelter should not be larger than the amount of funding from each city.

Other agreement terms between the city and county concerning the shelter include: non-profits solicited to operate the shelter(s), able to demonstrate their ability to augment resources for shelter operation; County staff will recommend its level of support of social services towards operations; and an RFP review committee will be formed.

The conditional use permit for the shelter is being completed and Lambert said this should be done quickly. This will be a City of Ventura shelter in Ventura. So the City would have administrative authority.

Tonight, Lambert asked City Council to:

  1. Endorse in concept the location of the year-round shelter at the Ventura County owned property at 2323 Knoll Drive.
  2. Authorize Mayor Andrews to sign a letter of intent expressing the City’s support to partner with the County of Ventura on the development and the operations of a year-round homeless shelter.
  3. Subject to conditions, direct the Interim City Manager and Community Development Director to work with Ventura County to develop a detailed agreement to be scheduled for City Council consideration as soon as possible.

Many public speakers thanked city council and other groups for developing this proposal for the shelter. A volunteer for the One Stop Program and Mark Alvarado spoke in support of the shelter. Alvarado believes that this shelter would help decrease homelessness. Time will tell, as shelter doors open and decisions will be made on where the subset of “inebriated” homeless population will go and whether they will be able to enter the shelter to “sleep it off,” as Alvarado said would happen in the Oxnard low barrier shelter.

When Alvarado and the Oxnard low barrier shelter was discussed, he said to Citizens Journal, “This shelter is going to be low barrier. We have to be able to get people off of the streets. So when we are doing intake and the homeless person is drunk or high (on drugs), we are going to have to figure out how we are going to deal with them and get them into the shelter and get them services. We can’t turn people away. That defeats the purpose.”

Will Ventura City Council study the affects of a low barrier shelter in the community? Ventura residents have spoken to Citizens Journal  about cities like San Francisco, where low barrier is allowed and leads to increased homeless vagrants coming into the city and therefore, increased crime. These stories are listed in this one main link online. The story, “Conclusions on Homelessness and Vagrancy” is found here.

Heitman asked Lambert if there is room for more items on the list for the shelter, including if more homeless persons not from Ventura would be allowed to use the shelter during the colder winter months. Lambert said that foul weather would permit for additional capacity. Heitman asked about fire capacity and Lambert said they would be able to do a tent structure in the parking lot.

Councimember Christy Weir asked Lambert how they are going to do the “Lock-out” plan, not put inebriated homeless back onto the street into the community and also make sure they don’t “mix” these persons with other (sober) homeless persons. Lambert said that is why they are seeking an experienced shelter person to solve that problem. Weir also questioned how they are going to implement that the homeless clients are actually from Ventura, which is listed in the plan. (Ed. note: if a person is homeless without identification, how will this work – only letting those who are originally from Ventura stay at the shelter). Deputy Mayor Matt Levere said that the shelter may not be open in time for the foul weather, so asked about what plans would happen this winter.

Other aspects of the shelter were discussed. Barry Zimmerman spoke about the service. Homeless Case Management Services, case management, behavioral health an transitional housing would be services to be discussed. These services may be available. With case management, a professional would do a hands-on approach with each homeless person to connect them with programs, services and financial assistance (if eliglble).

Pipe left behind, near business on Main St. Photo by Jim Rice

Council member Mike Tracy said that he agrees with what is being set up with the shelter – esp. with importance of controls and conditional use permits. He says it should be available to Ventura’s homeless persons and they need to figure out how to determine that.

Tracy mentioned comments concerning the establishment of a shelter that have also been reported in  Citizens Journal. Including that Ventura has become the “county seat,” as explained by local business owner Jim Rice in our story, “Town Turned Upside Down.”

 “My fear is that – while we are the hub of county services – I don’t have any doubt that a large percentage of our homeless population comes from elsewhere in the county through the jail system, mental health system and VCMC,” said Tracy at the meeting. “It’s true. A very significant amount of the homeless population in Ventura gets sent to Ventura by other cities in the county. And now we are also establishing a shelter. My concern is that when we are putting Ventura city taxpayer dollars into providing housing for Ventura’s homeless, I don’t know how that is going to work very effectively. The thing that does come to mind that we can do is do negotiations with the county is try to figure out a way to do – I think the term that is used is repratriation – so that, if someone comes to Ventura from another city in the county, maybe they are brought here involuntarily or by ambulance, that they be taken back to the community they came from.”

Citizens Journal wrote about this method of transporting the homeless back to their original communities in this story here, called “Patrol Task Force Offers Insight on Homeless.” The way this works is that the homeless person must  have a family member at the end destination willing and ready to care for this homeless person. This system is called the Family Reconnection Program. led by Downtown Ventura Partners, that receives private funding. When a person determines to become clean and sober and receive mental health treatment and is not from Ventura, the PTF’s philosophy is that they have a higher chance for success when they are “around a support group of family or friends.” If this homeless person then wants to reunite with that person who is in their hometown, Downtown Ventura Partner pays for their transportation to connect with their family. There has been about 145 homeless individuals reconnected through this program in the past few years.

Patrol Task Force. Jerry Foreman, second from left.

“I think if you talk to our police officers, they will pretty much validate that they (the homeless) are brought here to Ventura, not dumped here, for county services,” Tracy added. “They are now in Ventura because they are homeless and they stay in Ventura. That may be one way to minimize the amount of homeless persons seeking shelter in Ventura who are not really Ventura’s homeless population. Maybe through these negotiation process with the county we can talk about that.”

Tracy said that they need to look at the RiverHaven model and how ineffective it worked. He sees not many people from Ventura living at River Haven and does not think that only putting a service provider in charge would work. He also said that there seems to be a sense that the City of Ventura would be putting out a lot of money to operate the shelter and that needs to be looked at. Tracy said they do not have millions of dollars to spend on a homeless shelter. He said that the provider and the nonprofit agencies need to come up with a significant amount of the funds. Tracy is also wondering who the “City Team” is that is said to run the shelter. Who is responsible and held accountable for the terms and conditions?

Tracy said in his conclusion that without he or any city council staff there on the grounds to enforce rules or regulations, there will not be a “happy ending.”

Mayor Andrews said that it would be difficult to only assist those who are from Ventura. He used as an example a woman who lived in a shelter for three decades and then was able to say she was from Ventura.

The council is looking to the community for advisement, especially on the financial aspect of the shelter. If the 55-bed shelter cannot be afforded, then hopefully they can open a smaller sized facility.

Tracy said he would “endorse in concept and wait for the details.” All other council members motioned to pass the shelter formal item and move forward with planning.

Homeless vagrants on Main Street. Photo by Jim Rice.

Lori Denman-Underhill has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, Surfline.com and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.


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2 Responses to Year-Round Homeless Shelter Planning at City Council

  1. William Hicks July 18, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    Does the City Council have any Idea of the legal consequences of this move?

    Reply
    • William Hicks July 18, 2018 at 3:23 pm

      What model did the copy this from? Could it be San Francisco?

      Reply

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