The Patterson city council approved Resolution No. 2021-18, the adoption of Stanislaus Community Response Guidelines. According to the Stanislaus Community Homeless Encampment Response Guidelines, “The purpose of the SCRG is to develop a standard process for identifying and responding to significant encampments of individuals experiencing homelessness that require a multi-agency approach.”
This program promises to deliver results by combining efforts of multiple agencies to mitigate the negative effects homelessness has on those who are homeless as well as the communities they reside. “The development of a coordinated and consistent process to address encampments of individuals experiencing homelessness will significantly increase the probability of successful outcomes for the individuals, responding staff and the community.”
A count of the homeless population in Patterson will begin soon, though the numbers won’t be considered official statistics as yet due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the transient population.
Patterson Police Chief Joshua Clayton shared with the Irrigator an information gathering card that deputies will use to accumulate data as it pertains to the transient residents that they come into contact with over the course of their shifts. This information will give the agencies involved a better understanding of who the transient residents are, where they came from, factors that may contribute to their homelessness and whether or not they would like assistance in getting off the streets.
The following summary of the program was presented to council members in a staff report during the meeting.
1. Identify Immediate Hazards: Homeless outreach staff will be deployed to assess risk, mitigate hazard, and offer resources and services to inhabitants.
2. Criteria to Remove Encampment: Criteria such as safety, health, location, and size will be used in determining if the encampment should be removed.
3. Lead Agency: The Lead Agency will contact the Community Services Agency (CSA), Housing and Homeless Division to coordinate outreach efforts for the encampments. These efforts will include working with partner agencies such as abatement, local law enforcement, California Department of Transportation, Turlock Irrigation District, etc.
4. Outreach and Engagement Team: All Requests for outreach will be made to one direct location, via email. The Access Center Outreach and Engagement Team will post notices at the sites, work with local law enforcement, and visit the encampment site to offer alternative housing. Hygiene kits and additional information for services will be offered at the time of visit. Following the engagement, a summary of efforts will be provided to the CSA Housing and Homeless Division.
5. Notice to Vacate: Local law enforcement will post a 72-hour notice to vacate. This will allow inhabitants time to clean-up garbage and debris and collect their personal belongings.
6. Removal of Garbage and Debris: Once the 72-hour notice to vacate has expired, abatement workers may proceed with removal of the encampment. A field review with photographs, and record of date and time will be taken. Items identified as valuable will be held stored for at least 60 days.
7. Preventing Re-Establishment of Encampments: Local jurisdictions are to take steps to prevent the re-establishments of the encampments such as signage a routine patrol of the area.
In the early morning hours of April 6, deputies from Patterson Police Service, Chief Clayton, and Rosie Raya of Cambridge Academies (HOST and Naomi’s Houses) held an impromptu meeting of the minds at “The Oleanders,” to discuss Patterson’s homeless population. While city crews responded to the area to clear the collected trash and debris, and trim the oleanders, those who have the most frequent contact with homeless individuals talked about some of the difficulties associated with caring for, and also policing those who live on the fringes of society.
Raya and the deputies discussed some of the challenges faced by homeless individuals who suffer from untreated mental health issues and the extenuating circumstances of drug and alcohol addiction. Both topics seem to be the most significant contributing factors of homelessness in Patterson. All those present agreed that the majority of the local homeless population choose to continue to live as they are, despite the support and resources available to them through programs such as those offered by Cambridge Academies at the HOST and Naomi’s Houses. Also shared by Raya was the fact that many of the homeless individuals in Patterson have family in town or nearby in surrounding communities. But those families have often spent years trying to help their loved one to no avail and have no choice but to step away from the destructive behaviors exhibited by their family members who now live on the streets.
Deputies also shared their frustrations due to their inability to do much more than take possession of controlled substances and release individuals with a citation. In California, most drugs related charges are simple misdemeanors that can result in a $1,000 fine and potentially a jail sentence. Raya acknowledged their frustrations and agreed. Because there is less opportunity for intervention service providers to reach the people they’re meant to support it’s harder to get them into long-term programs like those offered locally. She acknowledged that fines and similar enforcement rarely make a difference in the circumstances of the individual if they don’t want to change. “We can’t change their mindset, but we can offer them support and resources,” Raya said.
She and the deputies shared information about the rampant use of black tar heroin and methamphetamines by those living on Patterson’s streets. These drugs are often “cut” with dangerous chemicals that can have significant negative health effects like psychosis and organ failure. “Cutting” drugs essentially dilutes the substance and increases the volume of product to be sold, this increases the profits made by dealers. It also makes it more difficult, and even dangerous for providers like Raya to care for their guests. She told the deputies, “We’ll do whatever we can to support you guys and what you’re doing. You can call me. If you have someone who wants help, we’ll work with them. But we can’t have them [at the facilities] if they’re on drugs because they can be dangerous, they swing at our employees and other guests.”
Unfortunately, Patterson’s first responders have seen a number of deaths associated with the use of these substances. Raya spoke of a woman who recently died in the encampment, “her body just quit working,” she said. In 2019, 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. More than 6,000 overdose deaths occurred in California.
Hopefully, the City’s adoption of the Stanislaus Community Homeless Encampment Response Guidelines will not only help to house homeless people but will also help lower the rates of drug abuse, associated disease, and death among the vulnerable population.