More than 250 people gathered for the City Council’s Community Homeless Workshop at the Derby Club on April 18, 2016. Attendees worked in groups to complete exercises designed to define, understand and help the homeless community.
Several attendees commented that increased coordination between the different agencies, to which would include all private and faith-based organizations, might improve the distribution of homeless services.
One problem with providing Ventura’s homeless with overnight accommodations is that zoning does not allow overnight sheltering and other services at the same location. Time consuming and costly city permits also slow the availability of shelters.
At the conclusion of the Workshop, Mayor Erik Nasarenko made a motion that would allow the city to forgo some of the zoning/permitting process. The motion passed 5-2. City Attorney Gregory Diaz said the motion does not change zoning, but allows the city staff to examine the issue further.
At the City Council meeting held on July 11 – in a victory for advocates of the homeless – the City Council voted 7-0 to take the first step toward allowing homeless facilities in Ventura.
They also agreed to continue to work closely with Ventura County on a coordinated effort to help the homeless.
After the final vote, the large crowd at the council meeting erupted into applause (instead of the usual waiving of hands which is the Council protocol).
The vote was mostly symbolic because city staff will now reach out to Venturans, the business community, police and others as the city develops the required zoning to implement the council’s wishes. They directed staff to return to City Council with an ordinance amendment to allow sheltering and services in a new zone or overlay with a targeted timeline to return to City Council by March 2017.
Councilmember Mike Tracy stated that other cities and the county must be involved in the effort so the burden of serving the area’s homeless population wouldn’t fall only on Ventura.
“We need a regional approach,” he said.
The entire council expressed great concern for both the homeless and Ventura residents and asked important questions of the staff and Community Development Director Jeff Lambert and Community Services Manager Peter Brown.
The Ventura Chamber participated in the council meeting and spoke on behalf of the City staff recommendation to change the zoning to allow emergency shelter and day services in the same area. Earlier this year, the Chamber declared homelessness as one of their four key areas of focus.