Year-round shelter, portal for services among top concerns at Ventura workshop

Ventura’s latest battle in its ongoing struggle to deal with chronic homelessness was fought Monday night at the Ventura County fairgrounds.

More than 200 people involved in combating homelessness gathered in a conference room at the Derby Club for a City Council-sponsored workshop on homelessness.

“This really shows the diversity of groups and that what it takes [is] everyone working together,” said Ventura City Manager Mark D. Watkins.

“We’re thrilled with the turnout. You put together a workshop like this, you don’t know how many are going to turn out, we’ve packed the room,” Watkins said.

Ventura’s City Council and several other city officials, including Police Chief Ken Corney, came to the workshop. County Supervisors Steven Bennett, District 1, and Kathy Long, District 3, also attended.

Consultants Ken Lee and Dana Smith guided the room full of members of nonprofit charities and faith-based groups through several exercises aimed at helping them better network with each other.

“Owning homelessness requires pooling and leveraging resources,” Lee explained. “Everyone in this room has something to offer — how are we going to turn this around? Who’s going to fill the gap to bring everyone together?”

During the first exercise people were asked to cite their accomplishments and what they had thus far achieved to combat homelessness.

Family to Family’s community meal program, the River Haven Project’s tent community, the Salvation Army’s women’s shelter and St. Vincent de Paul’s rapid rehousing program were among efforts touted.

In other exercises attendees were asked to define homelessness and to explain why it is important for them personally to be involved in fighting it.

Health and safety, economic costs and harm to the tourist trade, emergency rooms overwhelmed by uninsured people, environmental damage from accumulated trash and drug paraphernalia were all mentioned as reasons attendees wanted “to be part of the solution.”

Offering “a portal to services” was given as that solution, but a homeless single father who came to the workshop after hearing about it on radio threw cold water on the notion that it’s being done.

“I’ve tried calling every place — I just get shut out,” during his three months of homelessness, said Dan Core, an out-of-work plumber who had his young son and daughter with him.

Core said he has been referred to one organization after another only be frustrated with their inability to help him.

“It’s an endless circle, and I don’t have the funds to run all over Ventura County,” said Core, who has been sleeping in his car in the parking lots of motels and restaurants.

That led to a discussion of the elephant in the room, the city of Ventura’s refusal so far to single out zones where a permanent year-round homeless shelter can be placed.

“The absent member at the table is [and] has been our civic leaders,” said Kate Mills, who runs the county’s health care services for the homeless. “We need some civic will.”

After the three-hour workshop, the City Council directed staff to explore changing the city’s zoning rules to allow a homeless shelter with centralized access to social services.