Homelessness meeting

Subcommittee meeting discusses concerns and solutions 

The Finance, Administration and Police Subcommittee of the Cloverdale City Council met on Oct. 26 to discuss the question of homelessness in Cloverdale — and a large chunk of Cloverdale joined them, ready to share their experiences about how their lives have been affected by the growing number of homeless people in town and their ideas about how to fix the problem. The subcommittee, which is trying to come up with recommendations to present to the city council, had appealed for community involvement in shaping the recommendations the committee will present to the city council.

According to City Manager David Kelley, the subcommittee has been having regular meeting discussions about homelessness in Cloverdale since June of this year. The meetings are meant to give community members a place to discuss their grievances and concerns in regard to Cloverdale’s transient population, as well as work together to think of solutions. This meeting had the largest number of community members in attendance.

“The issue of homelessness, we need to recognize, is a significant issue that’s affecting not only the United States, but certainly California and most importantly, where we live here in Cloverdale,” said Kelley when introducing the agenda item to the subcommittee and the council. “The intent is for this committee to really discuss all of the issues and to develop a set of recommendations that then can go back to our city council for proaction.”

“At this point we have had four meetings — there have been a number of issues discussed, ranging from trespassing to police to security issues. There’s been issues around trash pickup and some of the environmental impacts of homelessness on our river environment; there’s been (discussion of) some of the mental health issues that are associated with homelessness and the impact that it has on our residents. And last but not least, the impact of not having a shelter in our community or adequate and affordable housing. All of those issues have been discussed, but at this point there hasn’t been a set of recommendations.”

In order to build a set of recommendations, this meeting and subsequent meetings will be asking the public for community input, specifically trying to find “those recommendations that our community supports,” Kelley said.

Hearing from those on the front lines

Before opening the floor to public comment, councilmember Gus Wolter asked representatives from agencies that interface with the homeless to discuss what they’ve been doing thus far.

Cloverdale’s acting Chief of Police, Robert Stewart, said, “What we’re trying to do is gather information from other agencies. Everybody has the same problem. It’s very noticeable in a small community like we have in Cloverdale. We’re trying to develop all of these programs and best practices — what works, what didn’t work, how we got there — over time, we will develop a program that outlines how to get to the point that we need to get to. The really big issue for us is dealing with some of the individuals who have mental health issues.”

He mentioned the resources that Petaluma allocated toward monitoring the homeless population in town — two officers dedicated to the issue, as well as partnering with other local agencies such as shelters and mental health providers.

When fielding questions from the public, Stewart also mentioned that Prop 47 makes it more difficult for law enforcement officers to arrest transients. According to the California Court’s explanation of Prop 47, the proposition changed three aspects of felony sentencing laws — one of which includes reclassifying certain theft and drug possession offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies.

Representatives from Wallace House and Reach for Home talked about the mental health component of homelessness — specifically the difficulty of securing mental health treatment for the homeless, as well as the role that mental illness plays in making people homeless in the first place.

“We work in partnership with the Wallace House,” said Colleen Carmichael of Reach for Home. “(What we do) is a system — we work with them, we do case management, we set goals … I know it’s frustrating. The key is also housing; we’ve purchased two homes in Cloverdale, and we hope to purchase a fourplex in Cloverdale.”

Carmichael also brought a packet from the National Alliance on Homelessness that discusses developing a structure that efficiently works to help end homelessness. The packet was given to the subcommittee and will be available to the public once the minutes from the Oct. 26 are online.

“I just want you to know we’re not just giving out,” Carmichael said. “We’re teaching them how to successfully be housed so they don’t go back out there again … the people we work with are good people who have had traumas in their life.”

Representatives from Cloverdale Fire, Fish and Wildlife, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol were also on hand to answer questions.

From sympathy to rage: a range of reactions from the public

Once the floor opened for public comment, multiple people spoke about their own experiences with the homeless. One resident spoke about prowler trying to get into houses around his neighborhood: “Within a week there was three issues where my next-door neighbor had hundreds of dollars of tools (stolen). Three days later, in plain sight, my wife witnessed a guy prowling and looking through everybody's gates. He told my wife he used to live here — we know that’s not true. We have an issue here that is not about those who are in need, who want help, we are dealing with people who don’t need help, who don’t want the help, and they are coming into our streets and committing crimes.”

Business owner Monique Evans spoke about the homeless presence in downtown Cloverdale: “I’ve worked on the weekends and the homeless population has increased substantially in the last two years. I have had a lot of phone calls to the police department, but there’s been a lot of drunk in public that have gone unnoticed or cited and released. I’ve seen day in and day out the drunk in public harass pedestrians walking down the street. It’s concerning to business owners. It’s concerning the customers.”

Evans also recommended working with Conservation Corp. North Bay to get young community members out to help with the river cleanup efforts, which are currently being handled by the Clean River Alliance (members of the Clean River Alliance were also at the meeting answering questions.)

During this portion of public comment, other residents gave passionate accounts of their experiences: one has had multiple fires started behind their house; one recounted being grabbed on N. Cloverdale Boulevard, attacked and thrown across the sidewalk by someone they believe is homeless; a resident and business owner mentioned individuals loitering outside of their business; multiple people spoke about being robbed.

Common threads throughout the discussion included residents feeling unsafe both in their neighborhoods and in common areas like downtown Cloverdale, concern that the businesses in Cloverdale aren’t being heard in regard to how homelessness is affecting the safety of their workers — it was suggested that the police department increases outreach to business owners — and looking at the message that the city is sending to people who want to visit Cloverdale.

“This is really disturbing to me, as I’m sure it is with Councilmember Brigham, that this much stuff is going on,” said Wolter. “As far as I’m concerned, Chief, we need to increase patrol in these (neighborhoods). Just the presence will hopefully scare some folks off, but we have to do something.”

What to do

At the direction of Councilmember Wolter, the conversation was shifted to a discussion of possible solutions or steps the city can take that may help handle the issue of homelessness.

“We’ve heard a lot of input from everyone: now what to do we do? How do we handle this?” asked Wolter. “We know we’re going to step up our police force, but what else?”

Multiple people talked about the importance of increasing the presence of uniformed officers.

“Is there some sort of police intern program where we can have uniformed young men and women that we can have walking up and down the street? Just so that we have a blue presence … all you have to do with some of these people is to let them know you’re there,” suggested Kathleen Kelley Young.

Ipolani Bovee suggested the possibility of activating a neighborhood watch program, and Patrick King suggested installing cameras at points within the community to help identify the people who are committing crimes.

“The police aren’t necessarily going to solve the issue,” said Colleen Carmichael of Reach for Home. “If we’re talking about homeless people, there is a small percentage of people who are actually perpetrating those (crimes). It feels like a lot in this town because it’s a small town.”

“A lot of these people that we deal with aren’t violent in that way. I’m really worried that people who are actually homeless and are in need of our services are now going to be targets,” she said.

Carmichael discussed developing a relationship between Reach for Home and Wallace House with the Cloverdale Police Department to help care for members of the homeless community that may be receptive to their efforts.

Bovee asked the city to put links to resources relating to agency regulation that can help the public understand why, and in what ways, specific agencies are (or are not) able to issue citations for people living along the river.

“It sounds like we have to be activists too and change the laws at city and state,” she said. “So how do we as citizens get acclimated on the city level and the state level to push ordinances or get petitions to change these things?”

“I’m trying to figure out how Oakland has managed to establish no-camping zones through ordinances,” said Councilmember Mary Ann Brigham. “We’re dealing with all of these different agencies, so it’s a crazy area that all of these camps are in. It would require intense cooperation with all of these agencies, and I have asked the city attorney to look into if it’s possible for us to write a multi-agency ordinance. I don’t know if it’s possible for us to cover all of those joint areas.”

Brigham continued by discussing the need for resources and housing for the homeless.

“I think we all have to pitch in — what are we going to do together as a community?” asked Kelley.

The next Finance, Administration and Police Subcommittee meeting has yet to be scheduled. The regular meeting time occurs on the fourth Thursday of the month, however the fourth Thursday of November conflicts with Thanksgiving.

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