“We’re Not Ignoring Them”: City Leaders React to Spike in Homeless Count

Camarillo Homeless CountCOMPLICATED ISSUE—Camarillo officials say addressing the increase in the city’s homeless population—a problem seen across the county and the state—requires a multi-agency approach that includes law enforcement and mental health services.

Camarillo’s homeless population spiked this year to almost double last year’s, but there’s an untold story behind the numbers, city officials say.

What was not revealed in the final results of the county’s homeless count and survey released April 26 was the number of people the city’s homeless assistance program placed in shelters in the past two years, which was 116, Councilmember Mike Morgan said Tuesday.

“We’re not ignoring them, not at all,” he told the Camarillo Acorn.

Despite a city program that provides hotel stays and other assistance, this year’s homeless count—the 11t h since the county started the survey in 2007—saw Camarillo’s homeless population go up from 27 in 2017 to 49 this year, an upward trend mirrored in the county and the state.

According to a December 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, California’s homeless population is estimated to be 134,000—a nearly 14 percent increase from 2016 to 2017.

Ventura County saw a 12.8 percent increase in homeless residents from 2017 to 2018, according to the annual count.

In Ventura, which had the highest number of homeless people in the county at 516, the fatal stabbing of a father by a homeless man at an oceanfront steakhouse on April 18 has many residents asking elected officials what’s being done to deal with the problem.

“We take a very proactive approach to the homelessness issue,” Camarillo City Council member Kevin Kildee said.

The city funds a hotel-voucher program during the winter months, which gets homeless people off the streets when it rains or when the temperature drops to 45 degrees.

In addition, a full-time deputy from the Camarillo Police Department is assigned to work exclusively with the city’s homeless population.

Although homeless numbers are up, Dep. Chris Dyer, the homeless outreach officer, “is in regular contact with our local homeless population,” City Manager Dave Norman said.

“He knows who they are and their individual situations,” Norman said in an email.

And beginning July 1, Dyer will get help from a behavioral health specialist assigned by the county, Norman said.

That program is part of Ventura County Behavioral Health’s RISE (Rapid Integrated Support and Engagement) program, Jennifer Harkey, a progam administrator at the county’s executive office, said.

The plan is to pair a behavioral health specialist from RISE with the homeless outreach police officers who work in Camarillo, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Ventura and Oxnard, Harkey said.

Alcohol and drug addictions, mental health problems or a combination of those factors can be barriers to getting homeless people the help they need, Dyer told the Acorn in an interview last month.

There’s not much more officials can do for people who simply refuse the help, Councilmember Jan McDonald said.

“One of the problems we’re having . . . is that a lot of the homeless are service-resistant,” she said. “If someone truly wants help, there are options out there.

“That’s where a behavioral health specialist can help to really reach those who are resisting services.”

This year’s count identified 10 homeless people in the city as having mental health problems. Eight homeless people said they have substance abuse problems.

The annual survey also found five chronically homeless individuals in Camarillo—a family with two adults and three children, the report said.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development defines a chronically homeless person as someone with a disabling condition who has been living on the streets continuously for a year or more, or someone with a disabling condition who has been homeless at least four times in the past three years.

Despite rising homeless numbers, Camarillo hasn’t taken up the county’s offer to share the costs of opening a permanent overnight shelter within its borders.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors formalized a process March 20 by which the county and cities can work together to finance and operate the facilities.

Under the guidelines, the county will match the amount of money a city is willing to put into building an emergency homeless shelter without breaking the bank.

Morgan said he’d be interested in learning more about the county’s offer. He suggested the county-owned Camarillo Airport as a possible site for a homeless shelter.

McDonald said a shelter at the airport might help those willing to be helped.

“But remember, people with drug or alcohol issues don’t do well in shelters,” she said. “They don’t follow the rules. For instance, if there’s no drinking allowed.

That’s the biggest challenge— how do you help those who refuse the help.”

Source: Camarillo Acorn – May 4, 2018 edition