The prospects of a year-round homeless shelter in Ventura are better but still largely depend on the will of Ventura’s City Council, officials said at a presentation in Ventura City Hall on Sunday.
“We have the resources. What we need is for the council to say, enough is enough,” said Eric Nasarenko, a Ventura’s City Councilmember, to the Democratic Club of Ventura.
Nasarenko said that the City Council has earmarked $300,000 of Measure O funding for a shelter and is talking about doubling that amount.
“That’s good, but it’s only a start,” said Nasarenko, adding that operating a shelter year-round would cost $250,000 per year. Several possible locations for a shelter have been singled out.
Measure O is the city of Ventura’s 25-year, half-cent transaction-and-use tax passed by voters in 2016.
Nasarenko, who is an assistant district attorney, cited crime within the homeless community as among reasons for a shelter where people who wouldn’t normally contact police can safely report crimes.
“There have been cases where homeless people have beaten and robbed others just because they could,” said Nasarenko. “They knew (victims) wouldn’t come forward.”
Safety and encouraging the homeless to seek out help from public agencies are likewise reasons that it’s important to have a year-round as opposed to temporary shelter, said Nasarenko.
Nasarenko noted that the seasonal shelter operated during the winter in Oxnard and Ventura for the last 20 years typically houses people overnight and sends them back onto the street at 6 a.m.
“It’s needed but is not a successful model” for reaching out to people in need of services, said Nasarenko. “They’re not getting help, they’re not getting the assistance they need.”
But Nasarenko said that his solution to homelessness — the topic of the presentation was “Solutions to Crime and Homelessness in Ventura” — consisted of one word: Housing.
To that end, Ventura’s Homeless Program Manager, Chris Russell, said that his office has had success with rapid rehousing of families that find themselves on the street because they can’t pay the rent.
Russell said that last year, 219 of these “episodic homeless” households were given help with the cost of getting and keeping housing.
After six months, 92 percent of those families were still housed, Russell said, adding the national success rate for such programs is 80 percent.
Russell said that he anticipated significant growth in the number of episodic homeless, but noted that his clients were generally people who specifically didn’t want to be homeless.
In contrast, many of the chronic homeless — generally defined as being on the street a year or more — are people who aren’t actively seeking help to change that.
“The answer is to get people access to services through a shelter,” said Russell. “If there’s no place for them to get a shower and a meal, it’s difficult to get them help.”
Panelists said that another reason for having a year-round shelter is to give the chronically homeless access to treatment for mental illness.
Ventura County Chief of Behavioral Health John Shipper said that although it’s not true that to be homeless is to be mentally ill, about 30 percent to 40 percent of the chronically homeless suffer from mental illness.
Nasarenko noted that Ventura police have already detained people for 72-hour mental health holds —when they are considered a danger to themselves or others — 400 times this year.
“That’s 100 a month,” said Nasarenko. “That’s a significant population that have some degree of mental illness.”
Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Board member Mary Haffner agreed that a year-round shelter with access to mental health services is critical to reducing homelessness in the region.
“There is a severe shortage of services for severe mental illness,” said Haffner. “We really do need a year-round shelter. If we can get that, you’ll see a dent in the homeless population.”