ONLINE VERSION UPDATED WITH COMMENT FROM THE OXNARD HOUSING DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR
On Friday, June 14, emergency shelter “guests” received an official City of Oxnard Housing Department document announcing new management, the Mercy House, which moves in June 21, transitioning from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. hours to 24/7. The document also included a directive and an attached map with a red circle outlining where shelter guests “must not be” during the day, which encompasses a radius of several blocks around the shelter, located at the 315th Engineers, California Army National Guard Armory at 351 S. K St., Oxnard. The boundary is from F Street, 7th Street, Ventura Road and 2nd Street.
The Oxnard Housing Department document states: “Because the only way the City and this neighborhood will allow us to have a shelter here at all is if we respect our neighbors by not lining up, not congregating or sleeping outside in the area or near the PAL or the park, and not hanging out in nearby shopping centers. If shelter guests do any of these things, we can expect the neighborhood to demand that the shelter be shut down permanently. PLEASE STAY OUT OF THE AREA SHOWN ON THE MAP DURING THE DAY! So please be a good shelter guest and don’t do anything that might give any reason to shut down the shelter.”
The document with the map states in bold: “SHELTER GUESTS MUST NOT BE IN THE AREA IN THE RED CIRCLE ABOVE DURING THE DAY. … ANYONE FOUND IN THIS AREA DURING THESE HOURS (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) MAY BE DENIED RE-ENTRY TO THE SHELTER.”
There is also language about what areas are “prohibited.”
Shelter guests, however, feel the parameter is discriminatory, especially large (given some guests’ limited mobility) and also forces them into the nearby residential areas. Within the parameter is a large empty field, some empty parking lots and businesses such as Vons, Walgreens and the Police Activities League as well as the old Oxnard High School.
“Gail,” a shelter guest who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation, had worked in real estate for 29 years in the San Fernando Valley before moving to the area to help her son as he succumbed to cancer. After a serious financial debacle with her family, she found herself living in her vehicle. When that accommodation was no longer feasible, she moved into the emergency shelter, which opened in January. She was handed the document last week.
“I have never done drugs or smoked cigarettes, I haven’t had a drink since Trump was elected,” she said. “I make good decisions usually. I’m here because my nephew put me on the street. I shouldn’t be here.”
She is among many others at the shelter who live with limited mobility and communication options, especially given the lack of power outlets to charge phones. But the feeling of being ostracized due to poverty-related issues remains pronounced among shelter guests.
“I admit those words are there, ‘must’ and ‘prohibited,’” said Emilio Ramirez, Oxnard Housing Department Director. “The inclusion of those words, it’s my error. The notice was drafted by my team, I completely acknowledge and admit that is the case.
“Also, we could have used different words. Also, in other sections of the notice, why ‘good neighbor’ policy, says ‘please,’ in addition to which, nowhere in the notice [does it state] barred for life from the shelter or arrested. Not disputing what it says and that I can accept, those are the wrong words, the intent is not a penalty, no intent to be punitive.”
Sean Garcia-Leys, esq., senior staff attorney with the Urban Peace Institute out of Los Angeles, works on cases regarding the constitutionality of gang injunctions, with the institute serving as amicus, or friend of the court, in Ventura County. After reviewing the city document, he expressed some concerns.
“First, all residents have a constitutional right to travel and to be present in public spaces. It is unconstitutional for a city to make spaces available to the general population but not to people with no home address,” Garcia-Leys said. “It is unconstitutional for a government agency to make blanket statements such as that shelter residents ‘must not return’ or are ‘prohibited’ from some areas.
“Second, across Southern California we are increasingly seeing that tactics that police and cities use against gang members are being used against homeless residents. Those tactics are ineffective in reducing gang violence and less effective in reducing homelessness.
“Third, I hope everyone can remember that the problem our cities is facing is homelessness not homeless people.”
Efforts to obtain official comment from Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn and Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez were not returned by print deadline.
To learn more about the perspective of the homeless, go to TheUnhoused.com.