When it comes to addressing homelessness, “We should be doing something for the citizens and businesses of the community — not the homeless,” Banning’s City Manager Doug Schulze said at the May 12 city council meeting.
He asked, “How many buildings need to be burned down by squatters. How many businesses need to be shut down, move or turn to other communities because homeless individuals are sleeping on their steps, urinating and defecating at their front doors? How much vandalism do businesses and residents need to experience?”
Irritated that some residents seem to feel that Banning does not do enough to address the homeless situation — only to have them complain when the city tries to implement measures to address those concerns — he said “Doing something — just trying to do anything — is doing something for the citizens and the businesses.”
He was primarily referring to the experimental Ramsey Street Village, a group of prefabricated shed-sized huts that offer those in need of transitional housing a place to stay.
The city approved moving forward with a grant application to the county of Riverside, which is administering CARES Act funding for the region, to hopefully recoup up to $200,000 in administrative costs, primarily due to accessing a housing specialist, and to hopefully help offset the salary of the city’s homeless liaison, who works fulltime as a police officer.
Since the county collectively has a population of 500,000 or more, it is the only municipal agency qualified for federal government funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (Banning’s population is roughly 32,000).
Schulze acknowledged that Banning alone does not have the funds in its general fund to operate the village the way it should be operated.
The city provides running water and will provide electricity.
Schulze clarified to those who are under the impression that Ramsey Street Village is “not temporary — what was temporary was moving individuals out of a burned out building into a vacant lot next to the courthouse” until the city could find another location to direct its homeless population to.
The village was introduced as a pilot program, he explained.
Residents there are not allowed to consume drugs or alcohol, and are screened for any history of violence.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings have been sponsored on site, and county services have checked in regularly to ensure that all tenants are enrolled in programs that they are eligible to participate in.
Tenants of Ramsey Street Village have had intake interviews conducted by the county’s Housing Authority, according to Schulze.
“If it’s successful, we’ll continue with it; if it’s not, it goes away,” Schulze said.
Some costs were already budgeted, whereas a portion of the salaries of an officer liaison dedicated to helping homeless individuals, and the hiring of a homeless specialist are eligible to have some of those costs recouped from CARES Act funding.
“We’re trying to manage these programs with existing staff, but we simply don’t have existing staff that are specifically dedicated to that program,” said Schulze, who indicated that the grant application is due this week.
Councilman David Happe noted, “Their public health is our public health. If we’re going to transition from an emergency situation to a more permanent situation, we as a council have to talk about using public funds.”
Councilman Art Welch pointed out that “This is a start-up project that was not intended to become permanent unless we see that it could become developed. The county has joined us to see what support they can give as far as medical, mental health, childcare support” and credited nonprofits for stepping up to provide services such as showers.
Welch said, “The village has addressed some of the problems, such as the lot next to the courthouse.”
He addressed those who have expressed concerns over how the city has handled its homeless situation, saying, “Should we be paying attention to the homeless? Some have complained about clusters of homeless around their properties and wanting the city to do something about it. The city takes an effort to do something about it, and some of the very same people object. I don’t understand, people.”
Responding to those who expressed concerns that city funds should not be used to take care of the homeless, Schulze said “Taxpayer funds have provided for homeless programs and indigents for decades from housing, mental health and addiction programs. The costliest programs are related to law enforcement when we ignore homeless problems.”
Schulze warned about an anticipated $5 million budget shortfall for next year in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and that 20 percent of the hit to the general fund involves public safety.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.