Once again community interests of Oakdale’s homeless and its associated problems were brought up to the city council resulting in the majority of the Monday, Nov. 16 meeting spent discussing the issues and the city’s response. Included in the talk were some surprising figures on the amount of time officers spend with a select group of individuals.
During public discussion, Ericka Chiara of Last Call Brewing Company told the council of the meeting she organized last week (see related article) with citizens and business owners.
“We’re not liking what we see when driving through town,” Chiara said.
Chiara also said that many feel the concerns against a shelter were not heard at the Oct. 26 “Focus on Prevention: Homeless” county meeting on the problem and the council may have already approved a shelter in the city. She added that private funds, not public ones, should be used for a shelter if one is to exist.
After Councilman Richard Murdoch advised Chiara that the topic of a shelter has never come before the council, Mayor Pat Paul told Chiara she left with a different impression from the meeting, but agreed that any shelter should be developed and operated privately, possibly by a faith based or service group.
“We have other things we should put our resources for,” Paul said.
Police Chief Lester Jenkins advised both Chiara and the council that the police department is working on controlling the negative behaviors associated with the select group.
“Not all of the homeless cause problems, but many do,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the department, led by Sergeant Nixon, identified 70 individuals by name as “homeless” or “vagrants” within the city, then shared statistics gathered from the beginning of the year through Oct. 22.
Jenkins said out of the 70 named individuals in the department’s data base, there had been 1,638 contacts by the department in the time period. Of those same 70 subjects in the nine-and-a-half month period, there had been 178 arrests and 116 citations issued. Jenkins added that 70 to 80 percent of the subjects were “hard drug users.”
Jenkins estimated that there were approximately six to seven contacts a day within the select group.
“We will continue to remain diligent and make arrests or cite when warranted,” Jenkins said, adding that officers also make referrals to services available to the individuals.
After the council breezed through agenda items surrounding groundwater partnerships, the closing of city offices during Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, and a bond refinance update, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, during his portion for remarks, stated that the city’s concern was not to focus on the homeless aspect of the individuals but the behaviors that are negative to the community.
Councilwoman Cherilyn Bairos inquired what would happen if a homeless shelter was proposed.
Whitemyer said that any development project would have to go through the planning commission and then to the council as a zoning issue.
“The planning commission would definitely hand that off to us,” remarked Councilman Tom Dunlop.
Resident Kathleen Westenberg approached the dais and questioned if the city was mandated to have a shelter.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan said the city wasn’t required to have a homeless shelter but that the state mandated zoning areas for one.
“We have to have a place for it to go for a private entity if it wanted to establish one,” Hallinan said, reminding Westenberg that the matter would still come before the council. “As far as I know, there’s been no viable proposal with a finding.”
Dunlop added that he would “drag my feet” if a proposal was brought forward to ensure its viability, funding, and operational plans were in place.
After the meeting Chiara said she didn’t like hearing that the state mandates that the city to have zoned locations for a shelter but did find comfort hearing that many on the council seemed to oppose one.
Chiara also said she was surprised at the amount of time the police were being tasked with calls for service by homeless individuals.
“Seventy people causing all those contacts is just ridiculous,” Chiara said.