That's the trifecta. Homelessness, addiction, and mental illness.
It's hard to talk about just one when many face some level of intersectionality. Way back when, I fondly remember the "local wildlife" hanging outside the Charlie. It's a very different picture now: drugs, hopelessness, criminal vagrancy.
The homeless, or "unsheltered," are among our most vulnerable populations. They include kids, veterans, families, and the elderly. They are residents of the county. They are people. But they also can be an economic weight for small businesses, a sanitation hazard for public health, a regular nuisance call for law enforcement, a cost-center for treatment programs, and a loss in life and our community. It's in all of our interest to help them back to their feet or mitigate those issues, but we must be responsible with our spending. As we see in the Bay Area, it requires more than just throwing money at the problem.
For many people, homelessness is short-term. They get help or pull themselves out. But for those that slip through, the longer they remain homeless, the harder rehabilitation becomes. I estimate that the number of homeless in our county (including latchkey homes, camps, itinerants, squatters, etc) is about 1,500 people. This is significantly higher than the PIT (Point In Time) study by ATCAA and three times higher than San Francisco. Like an iceberg, most are unseen.
Creating the Homelessness Task Force –– Homelessness is a persistent issue that we've seen increase over the years. Yet, a permanent place to discuss and work on it has not been created. I want the county to make addressing homelessness a priority by creating the Tuolumne County Homelessness Task Force.
Modeled after Amador's HTF, it will bring together local, state, law enforcement, non-profit, social service, homeless representatives, and faith-based partners in order to coordinate efforts that ensure all partners are working towards a common goal. To take one issue at a time and work on it instead of what we've seen: creating a 70-page pdf that isn't revisited.
After creation, I plan to serve on this committee. This is an issue I deeply care about and unlike our current Supervisors, I have worked to build positive relationships with various agencies, faith-based charities, and importantly, the City Council of Sonora that can bring it together. My goals include coordinating the wrapping of individuals in care, instituting some form of aid-for-trade program to incentivize desired behavior, and seeing partnerships between law enforcement and social workers to address petty crime.
Diversion Programs –– Criminal records can be an early entry into the homelessness funnel. first-time offenders, veterans, and youth, I support diversionary programs that serve the community instead of giving people a full-ride to Crime U. It's expensive, and we need to treat people with the expectation and knowledge that they will, one day, return to the community. We want them to be productive, responsible citizens. I would like to see a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program established for foster youth and will work with our new DA and judges to see how the county can partner to reduce that type of incarceration, leaving room for the truly bad guys.
Build Resiliency Village – This low-barrier shelter project is an 18-month rehabilitation program that combines traditional intervention resources with alternative approaches to work on addressing the trauma that keeps cycles of homelessness, addiction, and untreated mental illness reoccurring. It will be a tiny home village for up to 100 people in East Sonora and a single, centralized location to deliver resources such as job training, counseling, and public health interventions.
What can we do to help this project? First, the county can put it as a priority by writing a resolution standing behind the work of Director Mark Dyken and his board to help them receive additional grant funding. Then, we can expedite and waive fees for planning and permitting. It will take significant work to approve the housing portion of this project and may be aided by my other goals for ADU and tiny home legislation. The County can also apply for grants that support this organization and allocate them to their. 501(c)3.
I also recognize the huge work that he Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Atcaa does with HeadStart, food banks, and too many great programs to list. I hope to work closely with both organizations to see what they need.
Veteran Housing –– There should not be a single veteran on the streets for any reason except by choice. With over 10% of our population being vets, it's likely many of our homeless population are in this category. I believe funds can be pursued from federal streams to help cover outreach and treatment, and the ambitious projects presented to me for veteran-specific rehabilitative housing deserve the county's full support.
"Navigator" Program –– Early on I met with Michael Wilson and Steve Boyack of Behavioral Health (largely state-funded program). The idea was put forward for a bold plan called "The Navigators" –– a streamline, single entry point for all services. Officially, it's called "Coordinated Entry." When we spend money to fix one issue, it's important we wrap patients with a circle of care to address all other issues to increase the chance of successful rehabilitation.
Securing Mainstreets –– I want to see several programs to help secure our main streets. Firstly, a law enforcement program that provides a pro-active presence in townships, scaled up or down depending on revenue. This group will be able to check-in with businesses, residents, loiterers, as well as the homeless to ensure everything is okay. I am also in support of advertising the "Trespass Violation Letter" to allow Law Enforcement the tools they need to remove after-hour trespassers. Rocca Park also needs some improvement to feel and be safe such as evening lighting and security cameras.
Spreading Awareness –– There are many incredible resources in our community that do not get the attention they deserve. Among them are Motherlode Job Training, the ATCAA Food Bank, the MACT clinic, the GSAC shower bus, and this site: tuolumne.networkofcare.org –– A little-known directory of our services available. Our Supervisors should use their voice to share more of this type of information, both online and in person.
Additional Resources if you'd like to learn more about potential partners:
- Tuolumne County Behavioral Health
- Tuolumne County Social Services
- Central Sierra Continuum of Care, a federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) based partnership of multiple counties
- National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Amador Tuolumne Calaveras Action Agency (ATCAA)
- Center for a Nonviolent Community (CNVC)
- Calwork/Motherlode Job Training
- Interfaith Sonora
- Nancy's Hope in Columbia
- The Resiliency Village Project
- Jamestown Family Resource Center
- Give Someone A Chance (GSAC)
- Lambert Community Center
- Maynord's Recovery Center