Friday, April 07, 2017

Stephens/Mansoor Homelessness Forum

Last night more than 100 people gathered in the sanctuary of the Newport Mesa Church on the campus of Vanguard University in Costa Mesa for a forum on Homelessness hosted by Costa Mesa City Councilmen John Stephens and Allan Mansoor.
The evening was moderated by Assistant City Manager Rick Francis and included serveral "subject experts" on this issue to provide insight and perspective.  It's been a busy week for him - he moderated the discussion on Measure X the afternoon before.
Following opening comments by Mansoor and Stephens, Francis led off by introducing members of his "team", city employees and volunteers who provide active support to the Network for Homeless Solutions.  Among those introduced were Code Enforcement Officer Mike Brumbaugh, former Planning Commissioner Jeff Mathews, Pastor Ian Stevenson, Executive Director of Trellis,  Pastor Bill Nelson of Fresh Beginnings Ministries and consultant Muriel Ullman.
Francis gave us some perspective on the scope of the Homelessness issue in Costa Mesa.  He told us that 269 individuals have been directed to housing, of which 203 are still housed.  He affirmed that his group doesn't just put folks on a bus, plane or train without them actually having a place to house them at the other end.  He said, "We don't just ship them out to nothing."

He then went through a PowerPoint presentation which outlined the history of his program.  He began with the Key Goals adopted by the City Council in 2011:
1 - Define who is a Costa Mesa Homeless Individual
2 - Centralize in-house homeless services coordination
3 - Integrate law enforcement, mental health and legal strategy as a collaborative approach to reducing homelessness.
4 - Research Permanent Housing
5 - Review Interim Housing Options

He described the implementation of this plan, which included a 4-Point Strategy, beginning with the Creation of the Network for Homeless Solutions.  Those four points were:
1 - In-house coordination and enforcement collaboration
2 - Service delivery coordination with outside agencies
3 - Direct Outreach Services
4 - Reconnection

Francis provided some statistics for us as follows:
From the onset of the Program in 2013, the Network for Homeless Solutions Outreach Workers have;
  • Initiated 4638 contacts with Costa Mesa Homeless Individuals.
  • Placed 269 individuals in permanent housing.
  • Facilitated 70 Reconnections
  • Made 2280 Linkages to substance abuse, medical and mental health services.
  • Performed 617 other supportive services actions to assist the homeless population in Costa Mesa.
Additionally, as of December 31, 2016:
152 active homeless Costa Mesa clients we had contacted within 2016,
     38 of the 152 were homeless in 2013
269 individuals have been housed since 2013,
     203 individuals remaining in housing
     10 deceased
     56 Service Resistant, fell out of housing, or whereabouts unknown
     75 were still receiving followup services during 2016
     (Retention rate 75%)
  • In 2016, 20 active clients took up 49% of the total number of case management hours
  • Homeless clients took up 41% of the total case management hours
  • Housed clients took up 59% of the case management hours
  • The average number of hours spent with individual clients is approximately 7
  • 81 veterans have been helped since the onset of the program
Since 2013, when this program began, of the 269 individuals housed, 38 were housed in 2013; 50 in 2014; 92 in 2015; 89 in 2016.

Of those housed only 12% were housed in Costa Mesa.  44% were housed in other Orange County cities; 9% were housed in other counties in California; 13% were housed in other states and 22% were housed in "other".

He also showed charts demonstrating the kinds of services and percentages of hours spent by four faith-based partners in this effort.
  • Trellis
  • Fresh Beginnings Ministries
  • Lighthouse Church
  • Broken Hearts Ministries
Francis then introduced the panel of "experts":
Captain Mark Manley of the Costa Mesa Police Department who heads up Field Operations for the CMPD.
Pastor Bill Nelson of Fresh Beginnings Ministries, who has worked with the homeless since 1986 and whose organization has fed 49,000 people.

Pastor Ian Stevenson, the Executive Director of Trellis.  He was a pastor at Crossings for 26 years.  He coined the phrase, "We're better together", describing the collaborative effort among the various participants.

Muriel Ullman, a former Costa Mesa City employee who now provides consultative support for the Network for Homeless Solutions and is the main focus of City activities.  Among the things she's been involved in is attempting to set up a "mini-county" outreach program, but better.  She spoke about the difficulty of getting good contract staff, so the City has designated staffers to work on this issue.  She described the job is one that attempts to achieve a balance between the homeless and the residents.
Rick Francis was the other member of the panel.  Among the things he spoke about in his introduction on the panel was the question, "Why does it appear that the homeless problem has grown?"  Among the contributing factors was ineffective legislation - AB 109 and Prop. 47, for example, which resulted in more homeless folks state-wide.  Also, the growing proliferation of rehab homes in Costa Mesa has produced a large number of homeless as failed clients are "curbed" - dumped on Costa Mesa city streets without any means of support.  He spoke of the creation of the Network for Homeless Solutions and said many Orange County cities have modeled their efforts after it.
Members of the audience then asked questions of the panel.  Mansoor and Stephens scampered around the sanctuary with wireless microphones to the speakers, and occasionally offered their views on the issue at hand.

Among the questions asked were:
What kind of assessment is done for mental health homeless folks?  Ullman and Nelson responded to that one with statistics of the number of assessments done - more than 200.  The level of mental illness - it's a wide range - depends on the kind of services provided.

Many people ask about using the Fairview Developmental Center property for a homeless site.  The responses included the fact that the sale of that property is still a few years off - 2021.  The City has designated that site for specific types of uses in the most recent General Plan Update.  If the State chooses to transfer that land to another state agency the City can do nothing about it.  There are a lot of moving parts and the City has no lock on the land - no rights to it.

The issue of "curbing" was discussed.  The City has recently discussed a new ordinance, modifying existing Sober Living ordinances, which will soon appear before the Planning Commission.

What about a campground for homeless?  The reply was, "I don't know where we would put it!"  Francis went on to state that what is really needed is housing.  He spoke of the situation in Anaheim, where officials dislodged homeless from the riverbed and an encampment was created near a mobile home park which has turned out to be a serious safety problem.
What can we do to help with the political process?  The answer was to pay attention to current and proposed legislation - State Senator John Moorlach's bill, for example.  Francis referred folks to Scott Carpenter in Moorlach's local office.

What about crime by homeless?  Manley said it's a complicated issue.  Simply being homeless is not a crime.  He described the collaborative effort with the faith-based organizations and improving communication.  He said the CMPD handles over 100,000 calls for service each year and they don't want to handle the same one over and over again.  In response to the question about "who do we call", the answer was, "Don't wait for a response to an app." -  if you feel you're in an unsafe situation, threatened, by all means call the CMPD.

Locking bathrooms and removing picnic shelters in the parks?  A lengthy discussion took place on this issue, describing the closure of bathrooms at Lions and Wilson parks as extreme measures dictated by criminal activities being conducted in those facilities.  Speakers bemoaned the loss of the bathrooms, especially for children.  It makes the parks unusable for some of them.  Stephens, addressing this issue, said he's going to ask the City to take a fresh look at this issue, to try to find a better solution.
What about feeding the homeless?  Several groups apparently regularly feed homeless folks in parks and elsewhere.  Stevenson spoke of the difference between a hand out and a hand up.  The objective is to not just provide a sandwich to a homeless person, but to connect with them and help direct them to much more substantive services available to them.  Get to know them.  Nelson spoke of asking the person to "tell me your story" - to build rapport and confidence.  He said they've served over 61,000 meals over the past 3 years and that each should come with a prize, not a price.

Manley spoke of his Community Policing Team, indicating that they were working on a daily basis at Lions Park.  He also mentioned the state legislation, which is not helping local law enforcement at all.  He spoke of "Hybrid Homeless" - folks who are down and out with drug syringes in their pockets.  He expressed the view that it's frustrating and exhausting because of the number of those who return, time after time.  He said he "loves to put people in jail", but that's not a solution to homelessness.
With only 18 beds in Orange County, how do we deal with that?  Ullman spoke of relationships, and cited Redgate, which provides county housing.  Yes, there is a NEED for housing in Costa Mesa.  Francis referred to a facility in San Antonio, Texas that he has visited that may be a model we can follow.  Stephens, Mayor Katrina Foley (who also attended this meeting) and staffers will journey to Texas to view this site next week.

How do we deal with folks that don't want help?  Ullman responded that we don't want those people around.  She gave an anectodal story about one specific individual to elaborate on that issue.  Mansoor again spoke of the failures of AB109 and Prop. 47.  Francis spoke of the huge uptick in addiction problems nationwide.  He also spoke of one community that addressed the homeless housing issue by creating a village of "tiny houses".  Stephens observed that only housing 12% of our homeless in Costa Mesa is not acceptable.
Should there be a taskforce for drug addicted homeless?
Nelson responded to this one with a summary based on his experience.  He said, out of 10 homeless they encounter:
4 want help
3 are mentally ill
1 is a veteran
2 are criminals

Before the meeting closed testimony was provided by two freshly-scrubbed formerly homeless folks who have been helped by the efforts of the groups involved.  Marie described the tragedies in her life that placed her on the streets and the assistance she received to now have a home.  English Joe described his path to homelessness and now, through the help he has received, he has a home, job and a car.
The meeting was closed with a prayer led by Pastor Stevenson.

My take on this meeting?  First, a lot of work has been done by City staff, led by Francis and many others, to actually address the homelessness problem in the city.  The theme of "collaborative efforts" was a thread through most of the discussions.  The statistics bear out that progress is being made, but the problem is far from solved.  Many of the attendees were legitimately concerned about the safety of the homeless, and of the safety of the residents who deal with them.  We continue to look for solutions, as mentioned above.
The impact of Sober Living Homes cannot be ignored in this issue.  Failed clients who are summarily dumped onto our streets become a big - very big - part of our homeless problem.  Foley recently told us about her trip to Sacramento to lobby for a bill in the Assembly that would house a state inspector of licensed Sober Living Facilities in Orange County on a trial basis - she actually offered space at City Hall for such an inspector.  She told us that there are 108 state-licensed Sober Living Homes in Orange County, and that Costa Mesa has 82 of them!  That is a staggering number, and doesn't really define the problem because it doesn't account for the hundreds of unlicensed facilites that infest our residential neighborhoods.
Kudos to Rick Francis and all the folks who make up the Network for Homeless Solutions.  Each individual - from Mike Brumbaugh who holds business owner's feet to the fire on the security of their properties, to Muriel Ullman who helps guide this little boat through pretty darn treacherous seas and the other organizations who play a large role in trying to help manage this issue.

Although there certainly appears to be "management infrastructure" in place to appropriately addess this issue, as is the case with most issues facing city governments, money is a key.  We need money to hire more law enforcement officers.  We need money to try to find a place for homeless housing.  There seems to be a will by our elected leaders to "do something" about this problem.  Let's hope it bears fruit, and that we see the number of homeless folks on our streets reduced - it will likely never be eliminated.

Barry Friedland of Costa Mesa Brief was on hand to make a video record of the event.  That record should be up on his YouTube Channel and available for viewing soon.

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