Update shows progress with Ventura's homeless issues

Though a big concern for residents outside City Hall, few attend meeting

By Shane Cohn 01/31/2013



Ventura City Councilman Carl Morehouse said in Council chambers Monday night that doing something about the city’s homeless population is what residents arguably get the most fired up about when it comes to the city’s woes.

 
Though live streaming of Monday’s Ventura City Council was disabled and most satellite providers do not include the local access channel, only three members of the general public were in attendance at that Council session to learn about the city’s coordinated efforts to ameliorate the vagrancy issues.

 
Community Services Manager Peter Brown gave a presentation about the Ventura River Homeless Camp Removal Project, which began Sept. 17, and introduced a newly formed “public safety team” that will be used to implement ongoing enforcement of permanent camps. The team is a collaborative effort between Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Union Pacific Railroad, State Parks, Ventura Fire, Ventura Police and the California Highway Patrol.


“It’s really a breath of fresh air to be working with these public safety agencies across those lines,” said Brown. “What we found out very early in the fall, when we had our first team meeting, is that when one agency had an action or operation, it moved the problem to another agency’s location. Everybody agreed that [with] participation in this public safety team, we would have less of that.”


The team will meet quarterly to share information about chronic offenders and their locations, and will implement a joint deployment schedule to patrol the river bottom for illegal permanent camps.


The project has removed about 250 tons of trash, 100 individuals, 45 permanent camps and 25 animals from the river bottom. On the initial Sept. 17 removal date, 21 campers expressed interest in receiving assistance, said Brown. Of the 100 individuals, 13 are still getting assistance in case management programs, five have moved back to support systems in other areas, five are receiving vocational training or working part time, two are in unknown areas and one is incarcerated.


Though agreeing that the river bottom removal efforts have been a success, Morehouse said constituents are complaining that those removed from the river bottom are now more visible on the streets.


Brown acknowledged the concern and said that many have moved to the Santa Clara River bottom and other nearby areas, but added that it is not illegal “to be homeless, to have a bad haircut, to smoke a cigarette, to have a dog on a leash, to have a back pack and sit on a bench in the park. If they choose that lifestyle and they’re not breaking a law, they can be in our community and will continue to be in our community.”


The main concerns, Brown concluded, are vagrant behaviors and those breaking the law. A coordinated effort between public agencies is the best tool at the moment, he said, adding that those efforts are thwarted when people provide the chronic homeless with a hand-out instead of a hand-up.


“There are certain agencies and certain faith-based organizations in our community that continue to operate outside the bounds of a coordinated approach,” said Brown. “They continue to provide certain services that manage and maintain a street lifestyle.”


Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Heitmann asked for an update on the new shopping cart ordinance, which holds businesses accountable for carts removed from their properties. Brown said it’s been a major success, especially at Mission Plaza shopping center on Main Street at Ventura Avenue.


Councilman Jim Monahan expressed concern that the carts aren’t being cleaned enough when they’re returned to the stalls. Brown said there are not enough resources available to monitor the cleanliness of the carts, but that sanitized wipes are usually on-site.F

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