The city of Tracy now has a plan to get homeless people into shelter, setting the city up for its next step.
On a majority vote, the council approved a Homeless Strategic Plan and agreed that, even after year of planning and discussions, it’s still a preliminary step toward creating the shelter that will give people a place to go other than the streets and city parks, and get them into programs that can help them rebuild their lives.
The vote was 4-0-1, with Mayor Robert Rickman abstaining. While his fellow council members assured Rickman that the plan went well beyond just putting people in shelters, he still objected to having an ad hoc committee of council members Rhodesia Ransom and Dan Arriola continuing to direct the city’s efforts to address homelessness in town.
In April 2019, the council appointed Ransom and Arriola as the ad hoc committee, and after a year and a series of public workshops, the result is a document created by Technical Assistance Collaborative. On Tuesday, Nicole LiBaire, a senior associate with the consultant’s office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, presented the council with statistics on homelessness, information on community groups and social services agencies that can help people without housing, and an outline of four specific goals at the center of the strategic plan.
LiBaire said the first goal is to increase housing options in Tracy, including emergency shelters, transitional housing and longer-term housing.
“We obviously want to make sure people can exit to permanent housing, which means increasing the affordable housing stock and making sure there appropriate supportive services so people can stay housed once they are placed into housing,” she said, adding that the goal also includes seeking out local, state and federal funding, plus cooperation from local property owners.
The core of the second goal is a “navigation center” where people can find the resources they need to get into housing and find other services.
“We need to make sure there is access to addiction, mental health, family reunification, job training, all of those supportive services that help people to maintain their housing, and make sure there’s enhanced coordination between your local service provider and county agencies,” LiBaire told the council.
Third, the city needs to consider how it engages with those who have no shelter, establishing protocols for police to follow when they contact homeless people and for the availability of service providers during nights and weekends. It will require working with county agencies, such as the district attorney’s office and county jail, when they encounter people at risk of becoming homeless.
Finally, the city needs to identify specific solutions for those at risk of homelessness, including veterans, youths, the LGBTQ community, victims of domestic violence and people with mental illness. To do so, the city will seek funding specifically aimed to help these groups.
Public comment on the plan included input from those who would help the city provide services. Wayne Templeton with Tracy Community Connections Center said his group is positioned to help the city meet its goals, particularly in light of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, which don’t address the needs of people without housing.
“Tracy Community Connections, we have a shower operation, and we have served as kind of a mobile navigation center. We can take steps toward dealing with significant portions of Goal 2, and at the same time help mitigate virus transmission,” he said, adding that the group’s mobile services include washing stations and sanitation, medical screenings, and phone charging stations so people can stay in contact with the services they need. “What we would like is for the city to assign a designated point person who we can sit down and talk to about how we can help them mitigate what we think could become a medical emergency.”
Arriola said that finally getting to see the plan represented a huge step from where the city was at this time last year.
“What we should really recognize is that this is the beginning,” he said. “In order for the city to really start implementing these solutions, we as a council have to agree on this plan to move forward.”
He said that the council’s job will be to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the plan and make changes as needed.
“To get it all started we have to take a beginning step, and this is that step, but I’m very excited to move forward,” Arriola said.
The discussion included the city’s strategy for getting other government agencies and community groups involved with the plan. The strategic plan points out, for example, that Tracy Community Homeless Task Force includes 28 local service providers.
Ransom said that the San Joaquin Continuum of Care, a coalition supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, already provides a framework for that effort, and the strategic plan explains how those relationships would work in Tracy.
“It’s really memorializing the need for us to participate with the Continuum of Care as opposed to being on our own island,” she said, “because a lot of the services, including access to funding, comes through the Continuum of Care.”
Arriola emphasized that the strategic plan belongs not just to the council or city government, but to everyone in and around Tracy who wants to address homelessness.
“What’s important is this is a community responsibility. This is a social problem and the city cannot solve it itself,” Arriola said. “Having that coordination between all of our agencies and organizations will be the way to that, but the city has to take the lead first, and that’s where we are today.”
Some efforts are already taking effect. For example, Assistant City Manager Midori Lichtwardt noted that Project Roomkey, a statewide initiative to provide hotel rooms for people in need of shelter during the COVID-19 quarantine, is finally getting some hotel space in Stockton, which would be accessible to people from Tracy.
“We have provided the county with a prioritized list of clients here in Tracy that could be eligible for temporary housing in the hotel that has been secured in the county,” Lichtwardt said. “It opened up today (Tuesday) and we’re just awaiting contact from the county, when they’re ready, if they have space available for one or more of our Tracy individuals.”
When it came time for the council to vote, the mayor did not endorse the plan, restating his position that providing shelter for the homeless would be ineffective if those clients arrived with untreated drug addiction or mental health issues.
“Don’t take my word for it. Talk to any law enforcement officers out there that works the street, works a beat, and they see firsthand what is the underlying cause,” said Rickman, who is California Highway Patrol sergeant. “For me, seeing it, probably 95% of the folks you’re seeing in parks, or along the side of the freeways, levees and so on, the majority of these individuals that I have seen, based on my experience, have serious mental health and drug addiction, which means that they’re not going to magically walk into housing and have those problems disappear. They need treatment.”
Arriola replied that while the strategic plan’s first goal relates specifically to housing, the second, third and fourth goals relate to support services, including addiction and mental health treatment. The plan also covers action plans, law enforcement involvement, crisis response and how resources would be directed toward specific needs.
“Throughout it, we’ve attempted our best to incorporate a holistic document that does touch on each of these things, but as we move forward, this is a living document, and we’ll rely on our local support services to join with us and partner with us,” Arriola said. “I do believe this particular plan addresses your concerns.”
Ransom added that the local groups that already work with the homeless are fully aware of the issues Rickman raised.
“We’ve never had the opportunity, as a city, to officially partner with those service providers, who have actually come to our council as a formal delegation and said, ‘Can you partner with us?’” she said.
“This strategic plan addresses all of those holistic issues that you have brought up,” she continued, addressing Rickman. “I would invite you to make some suggestions if there are specific areas that you would like to see addressed that you don’t feel the service providers, or you don’t feel the partnerships or navigation center, will actually address.”
City Manager Jenny Haruyama said that, in addition to adopting the plan, the council should also direct the city staff and ad hoc committee to create a work plan to accomplish the plan’s four goals during the 2020-21 fiscal year. She said the plan should set priorities and identify how the city will fund its efforts toward those objectives. She added that the city still has $50,000, previously allocated for a warming center, that can be used to meet immediate health and safety needs of homeless people in relation to COVID-19.