Part 1 of 2
By Richard Lieberman
Kevin Clerici, Executive Director of Downtown Ventura Partners (DVP), the nonprofit business improvement district in Downtown that runs the Park Security Ambassadors, which is one of the many programs that the DVP operates. He is pleased with the progress and early results of the program. So pleased he’s thinking about expanding the project. Currently funded by the city in partnership with Ventura Downtown Partners.
He is in talks with City leadership about expanding the coverage of the program to the Promenade and bike path. The City solely funds the personnel under DVP leadership.
Prior to the programs beginning the city was experiencing major acts of vandalism, and problems in the two major restrooms “there was a significant fire in the restrooms of Mission Park and it was going to cost thousands of dollars to repair them, and the city had to pay, said Clerici. Based on the on-going vandalism and inappropriate behaviors that were occurring the city and Downtown Ventura Partners came up with the concept of the Ambassador Program.
“We are trying to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to everyone” added the director. The program began on March 25, 2015 with initial seed money from the city for three months. “We received an additional six months of funding which goes through December 31 of this year which is where we are at now” Clerici said.
“Our focus is not just security, it is about addressing those individuals in the park and how we can best assist them in getting to the root causes. “The challenge or the feedback we get is people don’t want homeless to live in the park, just us coming in with a security presence is not going to fix the problem” said Clerici.
The park Ambassadors have a zero tolerance policy for illegal behaviors, in the parks, but also strive to refer individuals to appropriate available city and county programs. “Our ambassadors have become trained social workers, every day we connect them with the caseworkers from the Salvation Army, Project Understanding and Turning Point Foundation said Clerici. Ventura Downtown Partners has a program called Family Reconnection Program where homeless individuals are reconnected with their family or support group, and the program pays for transportation and ensures someone will be there to receive them.
One of the benefits of this program is that it deals with each individual and their individual problems, “We definitely have had to deal with individuals who have drug addictions, and bad behaviors, that is a definite part of the program” he said. It’s not just about pushing people out of the park.” Some of the success this program has achieved is that now school groups and other groups have come back to the parks. Since the inception of the program even families with young children are back and utilizing the recreational facilities.
The park Ambassadors have become adept at intervening in situations of illegal or bad behaviors and have been able to keep police contact at a minimum, handling most of the situations that come up with homeless individuals by themselves. “We have had some calls for alleged drug use and have called for assistance” said the director. “We have not had many acts of violence, and no one from the public has been harmed in any way” he said.
One of the benefits has been that the violence that we used to see in the park has changed significantly, “We just don’t see the violence we used to see”, said Clerici. The ambassadors are primarily at Mission Park, and Plaza Park, but with the great success of this program they are looking to expand the services to the Promenade and are in talks with the city to expand the current contract to the Promenade.
The Ambassadors, part security, part-cleanup crew, part-social workers, and part tourism officials have created a safe welcoming environment in the city parks they service. Currently the ambassadors are available six days a week, and you can see them in their red shirts on their rounds at Mission Park, Plaza Park, Main Street (during events) and the Promenade.