Antioch to help the homeless with warming centers, showers, safe parking lots and more

It appears to be a step in the right direction where one Contra Costa City has placed focus on their problems. 
ANTIOCH — The city of Antioch is ready to put its words into action in efforts to provide tangible help for its homeless.
Nearly 10 months after establishing a committee and holding public workshops about its homeless encampments and how the unhoused can be helped, the City Council on Tuesday directed its staff to begin work on a list of improvements, such as providing more portable toilets, dumpsters, needle containers, showers, laundry help, motel vouchers, warming centers and safe parking lots for those living in vehicles.


In addition, as soon as a homeless coordinator is hired, that person will be directed to consider options for help with long-term transitional and permanent housing.
Though the increase in the number of homeless people in Contra Costa County has slowed in the past year, it is still rising, according to the city’s housing consultant, Teri House, who gave a presentation on housing and homelessness.
Increases were seen in the number of homeless disabled adults and single adults and seniors, the latter seeing a 97 percent rise since last year. The number of veterans and families who are homeless, meanwhile, is going down in the county, House said.
Rising rents especially pose a “significant challenge” for those who are extremely low-income, she said, pushing some into homelessness.
People who spend more than 32 percent of their incomes on housing are more likely to become homeless, House explained. An estimated 964 Antioch residents lost housing and sought help from a homeless program in 2018, she noted.
“This new study says 32 percent is a crucial benchmark for all of us to look at to see where our community stands and to adjust programs and allocation of resources so that we can help these households that are teetering on the edge of homelessness,” she said.
The imbalance of rising housing costs and smaller incomes hasn’t helped, either. From 2000 to 2015, studies show median rents in Contra Costa County have increased by 25 percent while the median income of renters has decreased by 3 percent, House said.
“Contra Costa County needs about 30,939 more housing units in order to meet the demand of lower-income renters,” she said.
But before taking such larger issues as affordable or permanent housing, City Manager Ron Bernal said staff members, based on the recommendations from recent committee workshops, had compiled a list of more immediate needs of those living on the streets.
“This has been a cooperative effort to get to this point. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it is something we wanted to bring back to you,” he said.
Among the items suggested were installing and servicing containers for needles at an annual cost of $2,500; adding a fourth portable toilet, which would bring the total cost to $5,000 a year; and buying mobile shower units or helping the current Shower Ministries nonprofit to add to its weekly services.
Councilman Lamar Thorpe, co-chair of the homeless encampment committee, however, questioned adding mobile showers, noting the city already has facilities that aren’t being used much of the time.
“I think we have to utilize the assets that we have in front of us as well, rather than reinventing the wheel somewhere else,” he said.
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock suggested checking with other ministries that offer showers elsewhere.
“I know Shower Ministries serves a huge need,” she said. “There might be other organizations we can reach out to.”
Regarding portable toilets, Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts suggested the city listen to the business community to decide on areas “where we’re having challenges.”
To help with immediate short-term shelter, Bernal said the city could work with hotels and motels to purchase vouchers that the county’s CORE Team would give to vulnerable homeless for temporary stays at an initial cost of about $10,000, assuming $100-per-night vouchers.
Another option would be funding warming centers either at public buildings such as the library or working with current programs like the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County’s “Winter Nights” rotating shelter coordinated through churches. Though the initial cost of the warming center, including startup, was pegged at $250,000, Lavonna Martin, county director of Health, Housing and Homeless Services, said it could be less if volunteers are used, as with “Winter Nights.”
Recommendations also included establishing a “safe place parking lot” for those living in cars or RVs, though city staff did not indicate where that would be. Such a program would cost about $35,000 for four months to get up and running and staff, Bernal said.
One of the biggest challenges facing the homeless is the lack of transitional and permanent housing, and the city could consider ways of providing both land and/or resources for services already available to help meet this need, he said. Examples included tiny houses, containers, huts and RV parks, all of which the unhoused resident coordinator, once hired, would investigate, he said.
Bernal added that total costs, which are not yet known, to implement the programs will require a budget amendment, which staff will present at the next council meeting.
One former Antioch transient, Jimmy Gordon, applauded his former landlord for allowing him to park his RV on his private property on Wilbur Avenue. He encouraged the council to allow situations like his, which was a lifesaver for him.
“Not all homeless people are hopeless dope fiends. Some just need a hand up, not a hand-out.”
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