An overflow crowd of more than 200 citizens attended the city’s meeting regarding the homeless titled, Focus on Prevention: Homelessness, at the Bianchi Community Center on Monday, Oct. 26, but after the meeting many voiced disappointment stating the conference wasn’t what they expected.
Ruben Imperial, Stanislaus County Community Development and Empowerment Manager, hosted the meeting and said the meetings were part of a county-wide initiative that aimed to improve the quality of life for county residents through homeless prevention efforts.
“There are many views and opinions in the spectrum all the way from ‘we need more services’ to ‘it’s services that bring them here,” Imperial said. “Our goal is to allow the community to share.”
Imperial started by giving figures of the city and county’s homeless population and the breakdown of those requesting access to support systems and those who refused.
According to figures there were 70 designated homeless in Oakdale with only 13 who did not want or refused access to care.
He added that according to Stanislaus County of Education statistics, 360 children and their families are living with a relative or other residence such as a motel due to housing financial constraints.
“These are not necessarily those living on the streets,” Imperial said. “For HUD money we need accurate figures for low cost housing in the area.”
Within the county there are three types of housing available for the homeless consisting of transition, temporary – both are for less than 30 days – and permanent.
“On any given night in the county there are 800 people in shelters or temporary housing,” Imperial said.
Imperial then had the audience break down into groups to discuss a preset list of questions consisting of; if the figures made sense and what would change, the city’s strengths to achieve success, challenges, and first steps toward success.
During discussion at one table, Tamberly Stone of the Center for Human Services said she participated in the county count that was done this January.
“If I talk to someone (during the count) and they slept on someone’s couch last night, even though they may be homeless, I can’t list them as homeless even though they may not have a place to go for that night.” Stone said.
Wayne Pacheco at the same table questioned why the count was being done in January, one of the coldest months.
Many of the tables were discussing occurrences of anti-social and illegal behavior of those deemed homeless in the downtown areas and city parks.
“It’s the criminal stuff that’s the issue,” said Christie Camarillo to her group. “The vagrant population is the most challenging.”
After 25 minutes of discussion, Imperial had the groups report on what issues were discussed.
One table stated that with the given figures, they wanted to know the criminal aspect of the homeless, such as those on probation, parole, sex registrants, and their criminal records.
Another table reported that they felt there was a lack of enforcement and easy river access contributed to Oakdale’s individual problem.
Other groups countered, stating that if there were more services, there would be less crime because homeless wouldn’t need to steal to survive.
“A shelter first ought to be a priority and fund raising to put a roof over their head,” said Chris Cosner. “No cookie cutter approach with more individualistic staffing.”
Others had concerns with those on the edge and barely making it as well as the maze they had to negotiate to get government services.
“Too much open arms for homeless could turn our city into a San Francisco or Santa Cruz,” said Kent Higgins when his table reported.
“We need to distinguish ‘homeless’ and ‘vagrancy,’” added another from the same group.
Councilman Tom Dunlop asked how the results were going to be quantified and the city needed to track how much money was being spent on the problem and associated issues such as police calls for service and vandalism repair yearly. Dunlop stated if a reduction occurred in those figures, success could be measured.
“What are you doing with all this data?” asked Donna Borges to Imperial. “What good is the data if nothing is being done?”
Imperial admitted that until last year, the county may have been collecting data with little being done.
“In January 2016 we will have a plan and a list of strategies that will reduce homeless throughout the county,” Imperial said.
“The city isn’t going to stand back and wait for a solution,” City Manager Bryan Whitemyer told the crowd, informing them that the police are making thousands of contacts a year. “If we don’t come up with a solution, we’re just putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”
After the meeting, as attendees left, many voiced disappointment in the meeting.
“It’s a perpetual circle we’re in,” said Kathleen Westenberg. “It’s just going round-and-round with no one coming forward making a decision.”
“It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” added John Jutz. “I thought there would be a more direct plan presented. This just seemed like a support meeting.”
“My views were opened more,” said Barbara Dronkers. “The people who are homeless aren’t the ones hanging out in the parks, but what’s going to be done about them?”
Even more showed dissatisfaction.
“Ten months into the study and it doesn’t feel the problem has been identified,” said Randy Woods.
“They don’t know the type of people a shelter will attract here in Oakdale,” said one person who did not want to be named.
Alice Garcia also felt the meeting didn’t make any progress in the community.
“I expected it to have more answers,” Garcia said. “It wasn’t beneficial.”
Imperial, however, felt the meeting was positive for the community.
“What I saw tonight were people who care about an issue,” Imperial said. “We had good dialogue and lots of people with different opinions.”
As the crowd dwindled out, Victoria Garcia-Corona still remained, along with a few personal possessions and her small dog, Lego.
Garcia-Corona said she attended the meeting because she’s been homeless for two years, and also had a three-year prior stint of homelessness. She said the meeting was positive to her but also was upset at some of the stereotyping that was done.
“Because we’re homeless, we’re drunks or on drugs?” Garcia-Corona asked, adding she’s been “clean and sober” for a year and three months. “There’s no other circumstances that brought us here? You’re wrong.”
Garcia-Corona said that the main thing she would like to see in Oakdale is a place to go to just be able to shower and wash her clothes.
“That’s what’s important to me,” Garcia-Corona said.