The Tracy City Council agreed on Tuesday that the city’s steps to address homelessness, including a plan to create temporary and long-term shelter for people, are just a start. The next step will be a coordinated effort with other cities to find solutions.
The council’s resolution was the city’s response, due by the end of the year, to the San Joaquin County Grand Jury Report from August. The report said that while the county government, along with the cities of Stockton and Lodi, work together to create a unified effort, including establishment of a single administrative entity for homelessness initiatives in the county, the other cities in the county have yet to join that effort.
The council, on a 5-0 vote, “partially disagrees” with the grand jury’s finding that only the city of Lodi has posted plain language on its website outlining how that city manages its programs designed to help homeless people.
The council agreed on its response to three recommendations, with the first urging the city to dedicate a page on the city’s website to homelessness. The council responded that this was done back in April 2019, right after establishment of an ad-hoc committee of council members Rhodesia Ransom and Dan Arriola, assigned to lead the effort to create the Tracy Homeless Strategic Plan. This past May the council approved an amended plan, the result of a series of public meetings that began last fall.
On the second recommendation, the council agreed that it has yet to join with the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care, a local program of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, designed to find ways to get homeless people into temporary and permanent shelter.
On the third recommendation, that the cities of Tracy, Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon and Escalon, support establishment of a “program administrator for homeless initiatives,” the council agreed only that the matter requires more research to determine what, exactly, the city must do to comply with this recommendation.
The discussion served as a chance to find out where the city stands now in relation to its own Homeless Strategic Plan. That plan spells out the city’s goals of increasing housing options and support services, along with creation of plans to engage with people who could end up being homeless, specifically those who are most vulnerable to finding themselves living on the street.
Consistent with that first goal, the city approved a plan five weeks ago to create a shelter at the north end of town. Assistant City Manager Midori Lichtwardt said that by the council’s next meeting on Oct. 20 she will have an outline for council review detailing how the city will find an entity that will operate that shelter, and also have details on how construction of that shelter will proceed.
By the end of the month the city will have a request for proposals, giving potential shelter operators details on what the city would expect from them, with the target date for opening the shelter in early 2021.
Consistent with the grand jury’s recommendation that the city engage with other local governments, including the county and other cities, the council on Tuesday got a closer look at what the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care has planned for addressing homelessness.
Continuum of Care board chairman Jon Mendelson described that group’s 2020 San Joaquin County Strategic Plan, a 65-page report that documents the homeless situation in San Joaquin County. It lists the agencies, associations and non-profits that work to end homelessness, quantifies the problem in terms of people who are unsheltered or have no long-term housing, looks at reasons people become homeless, and spells out the types of resources that are available to help people find shelter and rebuild their lives.
He complimented the city on getting a head start on the Continuum of Care’s strategies to expand low-barrier shelter capacity, making temporary shelter available to those who have the hardest time finding housing.
“Some of the vision you’ve already shown already aligns with this plan, and it’s not just providing more capacity to get people who are on the streets into shelter,” Mendelson told the council. “This is also making sure we’re investing in prevention and diversion programs, that on a per-dollar basis are one of the most effective tools we have in addressing homelessness: Keeping people in crisis from becoming homeless in the first place.”
The report also spells out the steps needed to reach the goals of establishing a regional system to address homelessness, increasing accessibility to services, and making sure that those at risk of homelessness can find affordable housing.
“It involves not only the housing, but it also involves the engagement with landlords and it involves the type of support services that are needed, especially for the hardest to house homeless,” Mendelson added.
“This embraces a housing first perspective, but housing first does not mean housing only. Housing first means individuals are more likely to achieve self-sufficiency, to improve their personal wellness, to be able to overcome challenges with mental health issues, with substance use and abuse, if they have a stable foundation of shelter and ultimately permanent housing.”
To those who engage with the homeless in Tracy, collaboration between the city and the Continuum of Care is a valuable step toward helping people who can now be seen living in parks and roadsides.
William Bubba Paris, a former football player with the San Francisco 49ers and now a minister and motivational speaker, is also the new executive director for the Tracy Community Connections Center, a local group that helps the homeless. He emphasized the collaborative efforts outlined in the county’s plan.
“By us adopting this plan we’re telling people all over this county to put their brightest and best minds together, and I believe that that’s the only way we’re going to be able to address this surge that we’re going to have in homelessness,” Paris told the council.
Council members agreed on a unanimous vote that a resolution supporting the 2020 San Joaquin Strategic Plan would multiply the city’s resources without becoming a financial burden.
“This is merely recognizing that we share the same goals and we want to work toward those ultimate goals,” Arriola said. “We’ve discussed that this is absolutely a regional problem and I think the more partners and stakeholders we have together to solve this, we have much more opportunities to find success.”
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