City Council mulls homeless shelter

Will a homeless shelter reduce the amount of homeless in Ventura? Photo by George Robertson

by Randal Beeman

Advocates who have spent upwards of two decades lobbying the City of Ventura for a permanent emergency homeless shelter will have to wait another month for a final vote authorizing the project. After making several small changes Council members will reconsider the revised ordinance at their April 20th meeting.

At their Monday, March 20th meeting, Council members heard from a number of local advocates for the homeless, including representatives of the faith community and social service providers who explained that a full time shelter would save the City money in addition to being an ethical imperative. Several audience members related personal testimonies on the plight of our homeless population.

While there is no proposal, site, or operator for the potential shelter, the City has designated a non-residential area – the Arundell neighborhood – for the facility. Council members discussed the language for an Emergency Shelter Zoning Ordinance and Map Amendment to shape the eventual size, scope, and operational guidelines. Councilmember Matt LaVere thanked audience members for their diligence on the issue, which has been a major humanitarian and quality of life concern in the community for many years.

Presently, the proposed law calls for a shelter with a capacity of 55 beds, and any potential operator would have to conform to a number of requirements including having a plan to provide security, to offering a variety of social services on site. There seemed to be a consensus among council members that this facility is needed and is long overdue, noting that any operator would be functioning under a conditional permit that would be periodically reviewed by the Council. The shelter is intended for short-term emergencies and will serve as a conduit for social services intended to keep people from returning to the streets.

Audience members who addressed the Council were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea. Stephanie Caldwell, President and CEO of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and member of the Stakeholders Task Force on the homeless, presented a power point on the homeless problem, noting “it is more costly to keep the status quo than to house people.”

Other speakers lamented the high rental rates in the City that exacerbate the homelessness problem. John Jones, advocate for farmworker housing, noted that affordable housing had become the biggest issue in the state with some 130 bills on the issue currently being considered in Sacramento.

Other speakers implored the City to consider allowing space for pets. Cappi Patterson, representing Buddy Nation, promised that if pets would be allowed her organization would cover the cost of feeding and caring for the animals, including veterinary care. Patterson enjoined that pet ownership promotes “reliability, responsibility, and dignity.”

Another speaker spoke of innovative “Navigation Centers” that focus on getting people into housing first, then addressing issues like substance abuse and a lack of state issued ID cards after getting folks off the street, an idea that has seen success in other cities and countries.

Councilmember Christy Weir admonished that any shelter should offer some sense of privacy and dignity, instead of warehousing people in large rooms full of cots and bunk beds. After making several changes in the language and scope of the ordinance, Council members delayed taking a vote on the ordinance until the April 20th meeting in order for the public to review the changes.

In other Council business, the City accepted a grant from the National Police Dog Foundation, with Police Chief Ken Corney offering thanks to Suzanna Underwood for initiating the process along with assistance from the Wood-Claeyssen Foundation.

There was also a budget workshop presented by City of Ventura Finance and Technology Director Gilbert Garcia and staff. Garcia provided a summary of the City’s financial picture and the potential problems with pension costs and maintaining a City-owned golf course. While discussing potential use of Measure O money, (Measure O was passed by voters last November to raise the sales tax in Ventura), Councilmember Mike Tracy suggested that discussion of how that money is budgeted should be guided by the citizens advisory panel, which has yet been appointed.


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