Great things have been happening in Ventura regarding the homeless for the last several years. While we saw that population spike to 701 in 2012, it is has now dwindled to around 300, proving that the various city housing programs are working. These include Homeless 2 Home Project, which placed 52 homeless people in permanent housing; the Safe Sleep program, which allowed 20 families and individuals to stay in their cars in church parking lots; available funding from the Downtown Ventura Organization to purchase bus tickets and gas to help people get back to their families and homes; The Kingdom Center and River Haven, which provide transitional housing units; and El Patio Hotel and El Encanto Del Mar, which provide permanent housing units for lower income individuals and families. All of these programs and the subsequent reduction of the homeless population are the tangible results of words turned into actions. And on Monday, July 12, some more great words were spoken: Ventura City Council agreed unanimously to consider zoning changes to allow a permanent emergency shelter.
There has been much pushback about opening a 24/7 emergency shelter over the years. Objections include enabling the homeless to continue with less-than-stable lifestyles and codependency on government for survival, as well as the idea that such shelters just warehouse people. Both objections are valid, but the facts are unavoidable. Regardless of the success of the various programs that Ventura has enacted, there will always be the stubborn chronically homeless who will not comply with the demands of the programs or will simply resist any assistance. The proposed emergency shelter, which also includes wraparound services such as help in applying to government assistance programs and job placement, would address the needs of some of that population. We are certainly getting closer to the mark as far as ending homelessness, and this would be a great asset. We, however, are concerned about Ventura City Council members being truly committed to opening such a shelter. We have a feeling their hearts are in the right place, but we feel they might let the minutia of making this shelter a reality defeat the actual good intention of the agreement made on Monday.
For instance, overall, Ventura residents have been vocal with concerns about having the homeless near them. We saw it with the Harbor Community Church in Midtown, which included hot meals and laundry services for the homeless. That ended with the city of Ventura recently paying over $2 million for the owner of the church to take his operation out of town and drop any pending litigation. Why? Outcry from the surrounding neighbors. We also saw it when there was a proposal to have a soup kitchen in Downtown off Thompson Boulevard. Again, that was shut down because neighbors didn’t want the homeless fouling up their neighborhood. Then there was the Safe Sleep program, about which Ventura residents vocalized irrational fear that homeless people would flock to the city from all over the country to sleep in their cars on the streets of the nice neighborhoods above Poli Street. Well, the Safe Sleep program has only accommodated a nominal number of people, and all that fearmongering was pointless. And while city officials are proposing to change the zoning to place a shelter in an industrial area off Market Street near Target, surely there will be NIMBY business owners who will fight back. This, however, is not the time for the City Council to concede once again to unhappy neighbors. This shelter is essential to helping our homeless meet their basic needs and hopefully set them on the path to stable lives.