Friday, July 28, 2017
Homeless count shows drop in Contra Costa County, shift to central county
Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report recommending for more shelter space for the homeless.
MARTINEZ — Although the homeless population in Contra Costa County continues to decline, the number of people living on the street in Central County rose this year and soaring housing costs remain a barrier to moving them into permanent homes, according to a recent report from Contra Costa Health Services’ Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services.
On one night each January, volunteers fan out across the area to count the number of people staying in emergency shelters and living outside. This year, the teams encountered 1,607 people who did not have housing — including 911 who were living outdoors — a 7 percent drop from 2016, according to the annual “Point in Time Count.”
The total number included 84 families with 160 children. Thirty percent of the people identified during the Jan. 25 count were experiencing homelessness for the first time.
“We are glad that we found fewer people experiencing homelessness. But there is a great deal more work to be done, and the housing market makes it more difficult,” Health, Housing and Homeless Services director Lavonna Martin said in a statement.
“It’s not surprising that 80 percent of those we surveyed lost their housing right here in Contra Costa County.”
More homeless in Central County
The count also indicated that the homeless population is shifting from the eastern part of the county to Concord, Pleasant Hill and Martinez. This year, 331 people were found sleeping outdoors in central county, up sharply from 200 in 2016. Forty-one percent of the “unsheltered” people in Contra Costa were living in central county, according to the report.
That finding is reflected in Pleasant Hill, where the number of people illegally camping overnight in parks has increased in the last few years, according to Tom Bradley, parks superintendent for the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District.
Large groups of boisterous men drinking, smoking and using foul language have gathered in the parks, police say.
To discourage people from setting up encampments in the parks, the recreation district recently removed shrubbery and boulders to eliminate places for people to conceal personal belongings or tents; locked restrooms at night, and raised tree branches to create clear sight-lines, Bradley said.
“We try to treat everybody with respect. The biggest goal is to not make the parks uncomfortable for the general public,” he said.
Although it is unclear why people are gravitating to central county, the March 2016 closure of a nonprofit multi-service center in Antioch may have contributed, said Jaime Jenett, Continuum of Care planning and policy manager with the county health services department. The county is searching for a building to lease in Antioch that can house a center, she said.
The county is coordinating its approach to help people who are experiencing homelessness so that the most vulnerable receive help first, Jenett said. Access points for help include a ‘211’ phone hotline that provides referrals; and Coordinated Assessment Referral and Engagement centers in San Pablo, Concord and Walnut Creek that provide showers, food, laundry facilities and other services.
There also are five full-time Coordinated Outreach, Referral and Engagement teams working under the auspices of Contra Costa Health Services’ division of health, housing and homeless services.
The CORE teams visit homeless camps and shelters to connect people to substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, case managers, medical care, benefit counselors, temporary shelter, housing and other services.
Last year, there were 211 emergency shelter beds for families and 555 for single adults, enough to meet only 41 percent of the need for the latter population, according to the “Point in Time Count” report. A recent civil grand jury report called for the county to provide more shelter space, particularly in East County.
July 13, 2017
East Bay Times
By Lisa P. White