Many progressive strides have been made in the city of Ventura in handling the homeless situation over the last several years. In 2004, Project Understanding established River Haven, a transitional housing complex, aka “tent city,” for the homeless with U-dome structures housing up to 25 people, a community room and portable toilets. Its success rate for the homeless moving from transitional housing into permanent housing runs around 44 percent. In 2011, Ventura launched the Ventura Safe and Clean Public Places Initiative to promote “education, advocacy and  legal action designed to enhance the quality of life for all who call Ventura home,” according to Peter Brown. Earlier this month, the city announced that the tenants of Mission Plaza Shopping Center on Ventura Avenue had enacted the initiative for their shopping district, and it has resulted in fewer complaints of vagrancy and aggressive panhandling. Also, earlier this year, various area organizations and agencies banded together to start up the Homeless2Home program that places willing homeless individuals in permanent housing throughout the county. It includes low-cost apartments and hotels. Twenty-one individuals have so far accepted the Homeless2Home invitation for housing. The next big effort, however, has really changed the city’s dynamic in handling the homeless population.

Earlier this year, the city worked with various agencies to move out some 85 individuals living in the Ventura River bottom. Because of the debris and human waste created by those living in the area, the situation became an environmental hazard, not only to wildlife but to people who visited nearby beaches. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board could have levied fines up to $25,000 per day if proper cleanup hadn’t been conducted in time. On top of that, fires caused by human activity and crimes, including homicide, created a very dangerous situation. The solution: Shut down the camps and move out the homeless. Pragmatically speaking, it seemed easy enough, and after 90-plus years of continual human habitation, it actually happened. To date, it appears that there aren’t any homeless people living in the area. Unfortunately, they may have simply migrated to the Santa Clara River bottom, which poses the same threat to the environment and creates another potentially dangerous situation.

While moving the homeless out of the Ventura River bottom has been beneficial to nearby neighbors and businesses, and while some of the homeless have been able to find housing through this effort, it really hasn’t resolved the issue but, rather, just shifted it. So how do we deal with it now? Rob Orth with the Ventura Salvation Army calls it the “hundred-million-dollar question.” Clyde Reynolds of Turning Point said that if agencies working with the homeless got just a smidgeon of the billions spent on this year’s election, creative practical solutions would flourish and the homeless problem would not be so much of an issue.

As the city and local agencies work toward solving this persistent environmental hazard and potentially dangerous situation, we as a community need to re-evaluate the time we are spending complaining and focus more on how we can better help resolve this issue. If there are billions to be spent on an election, surely there must be time, energy and money we can put toward bettering our community and the lives of the homeless population.