City Council approves plan for year-round shelter

by Richard Lieberman

The Ventura City Council at a recent Monday evening session has approved a plan to join the city of Oxnard for an up-to-six-month “pilot shelter” instead of the traditional foul weather seasonal homeless shelter.

According to the proposed plan, the new 24-hour homeless shelter will offer services to the homeless such as employment help, housing assistance, mental health and substance abuse issues among the homeless population. The proposal will use the Oxnard Armory, owned buy the city of Oxnard to house the proposed year-round shelter.

The city of Oxnard, Ventura and the county would each pay $185,000, with the funding share to possibly be proportioned based on the actual use of the shelter by Ventura and Oxnard persons experiencing homelessness, the staff report states.

Both cities would be using the shelter until they open permanent ones. Oxnard is looking for a site to put a permanent shelter in its community, while Ventura is working on a plan to lease the first floor of a Ventura County building located on Knoll Drive in Ventura.

The Knoll Drive location needs many improvements including sprinklers, bathrooms, showers, and asbestos abatement among just a few. The city is also seeking an operator and has already conducted three interviews of potential operators. The site could potentially be up and running by next winter. Costs are estimated to be in the $2 million for the proposed improvements and $1.2 million to run each year. Half that amount would be the city’s share. “Significant concerns were expressed regarding existing safety concerns and that the shelter will worsen this already challenging environment,” the staff report says in part.

There were also concerns expressed about property values.

Another option would be a shelter that would open just when the weather reaches a certain temperature or rain is predicted at a certain level. Based on the past two years, such a shelter would open approximately 22 days from December through March and cost $15,000 to $20,000.

A location has yet to be identified, but city staff and the Ventura Social Services Task Force identified several faith-based organizations willing to volunteer once a site has been determined. The city already has the cots and linens to use in a temporary space.

The city has also adopted a “declaration of shelter crisis,” which paves the way to get money through the state’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program. The county will receive nearly $4.9 million to distribute early next month. Oxnard, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Simi Valley and the county have already approved the declaration staff reports indicate.

The council also approved a new two-year contract with members of the Service Employees International Union. The contract gives the group a raise of just over 5 percent and a one-time payment of $500 instead of retroactive pay. The previous contract expired on June 30th.

The new contract runs from July 1st, 2018 to June 30th, 2020, and cost is estimated at $1.3 million.

The two-year cost for all labor groups approved so far is $3.8 million. This figure does not include members of the city’s fire two fire unions which have yet to reach an agreement on a new contract.

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