Pictured: June 2019 the Oxnard emergency shelter at the California National Guard Armory, 351 South K Street, Oxnard. 

by David Michael Courtland

Oxnard’s city council voted Nov. 19 to sign a five-year lease for a building that will be converted into a year-round homeless shelter near the city’s busy Five Points intersection.

The 5-2 decision — councilmembers Gabriela Basua and Oscar Madrigal dissented — lets Mayor Tim Flynn sign a lease for the building at 1258 Saviers Road that was previously a Salvation Army thrift store.

Flynn indicated before the meeting that he would support the move and that the location fit with what he had in mind for a permanent homeless shelter.

“There aren’t many locations that are suitable for shelter in any city, this one came up, so we pursued it,” Flynn said. “What I always envisioned was a shelter not in the core of the city but on the outskirts, ideally the best location would be next to the many services that [homeless] people need.”

The site is just south of Five Points, one of Oxnard’s busiest intersections where Saviers, Wooley and Oxnard roads all meet in a business district with motels, restaurants and supermarkets nearby. But in keeping with Flynn’s concept, it’s also near a county health clinic at Centerpoint Mall, a county social services office on Vanguard Street and is accessible by public transportation.

Mercy House, the organization that manages the shelter for the city, will also be operating a shuttle service for people staying at the shelter, said Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez.

The 17,500-square-foot space will be converted into a 110-bed facility. Plans are for the shelter to open in the fall of 2021.

The city’s rent bill will be about $22,000 a month with funding for the shelter coming from state grants, Ventura County and the city’s Measure O sales tax. That appears to be cheaper than the cost of operating the shelter in the past, which has been as much as $300,000 to keep the it open for four months during the fall and winter.

For most of the last 20 years the shelter was temporarily held from December to March, alternating each year between the National Guard Armories in Oxnard and Ventura. In January, a permanent year-round shelter was launched in Oxnard’s armory, which the city acquired after the National Guard decided to close it.

But the change from temporary to permanent status put the shelter on a collision course with federal regulations: The armory is squarely in the flight path of planes landing at Oxnard’s airport.

Ramirez said it became clear about three months ago that the shelter couldn’t stay in its current location.

“There was a continuing conversation with the airport, and a realization that we were not able to remain in the flight path,” Ramirez said.

Flynn said there won’t be any quality of life taken from the neighborhood surrounding the shelter, discounting fears that the homeless will congregate near the building.

“That’s the reason it’s not going to be a walk-up,” said Flynn, meaning those using the shelter won’t be allowed to line up outside of it as they wait to be admitted first come, first served.

“That’s going to be incumbent upon [Mercy House,] they’re not going to be allowed to hang out,” said Flynn, noting that the homeless will be shuttled to the shelter. “They have to go to a pick-up point.”

Ramirez said another reason there would be little impact from the shelter is that the residents of the shelter tend to be people who are taking advantage of Mercy House’s case management services. He acknowledged, however, that there remains a segment of the homeless population in Oxnard that will be “hanging out” in public spaces.

“The population in the shelter is distinct from the homeless population on the street,” Ramirez said. “Admittedly there are more than 110, but we don’t have the capacity or budget to house more, so yeah, there’s going to be unsheltered homeless.”

Ramirez said the city would have a street outreach team to make the homeless aware of programs and to invite them to the shelter.

But Commission on Homelessness Chair Peggy Rivera said she was not convinced the city had made the most affordable choice. She believes it would be cheaper in the long run for the city to build on the property it owns at 1450 Rose Ave., where the organization King Center already operates a program for homeless women.

“There’s so much potential there,” Rivera said. “It’s a city-owned property, which is better than putting money into a leased property.”