Homeless plans and discussions got heated in a community outreach meeting earlier this week in San Andreas, as Calaveras County prepares to make decisions on their homeless tribulations.
The meeting, held on September 9, covered the county’s plans for multiple housing developments in San Andreas and West Point, including plans for a housing development near San Andreas Elementary School.
The proposed site, at Gold Strike Road and Cemetery Avenue, would be prioritized for homeless youth and was chosen due to its proximity to resources and existing zoning for housing. In spite of its benefits for the homeless population and the county, including available grant funding, the plan drew intense criticism from residents and Calaveras County District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli.
“I just want to say I support these projects, all of them,” said Tofanelli as he addressed the panel. “However, I have some concerns about where they’re located.”
Tofanelli asked questions from a list given to him by several residents, including a few of his own questions, regarding why San Andreas was chosen for the project, the proximity to the school, length of time those housed in the development would be there and the controls in place to ensure supervision and safety for residents and the school.
Health and Human Services Director Kristin Stranger explained that the site was chosen due to its proximity to resources, proper zoning and the property was for sale when the opportunity arose. She went on to state that there would not be 24-hour supervision, but there would be access to a hotline for residents of the development and surrounding citizens to call for help.
The public urged members of the panel to proceed carefully, stating they didn’t want to see San Andreas become a “revolving door” for the homeless, a concept Stranger stated is a real possibility. She went on to state she didn’t believe it was likely given the services around San Andreas, reducing the likelihood the homeless would move around as much to obtain resources.
Other residents cited concerns with public health and safety, elaborating on personal experiences to date about being afraid to leave their homes unattended out of fear their property would be vandalized and concerns about needles, drugs, alcohol and mental health problems around their children.
“I understand there are many people that aren’t violent, that don’t have schizophrenia, that aren’t bipolar, that are truly trying, but there’s going to be a small percentage that may be in those emergency shelters … speaking to themselves or they find needles,” began Calaveras County resident Greg Bright. “How are you going to care for my children?”
Bright went on to ask questions regarding how the county defined success for the homeless in the developments and residency. Stranger responded that residency was defined as someone with health care connected to the county. She also stated success was “individuals moving further along in their self-sufficiency than they currently are” and that success would vary from person to person.
She continued, elaborating that the housing developments would have stipulations prohibiting the use of alcohol or illegal substances in the housing, but some of those entering them likely will have substance abuse problems. As part of the requirements, there would be random drug screening and checks of the housing to ensure there is no alcohol or drugs on-site.
Opposition wasn’t limited to just the planned development near the school. Residents also took issue with a shelter slated to go on county property close to the Behavioral Health building and in close proximity to the San Andreas Central Library, due to its proximity to commonly traversed routes for local children. Although many voiced concerns and opposed the location for the county’s plans, many were still in favor of doing something to resolve the vagrancy issue in Calaveras.
Some residents proposed simply changing the location of the developments. However, officials stated the project would lose funding and a new application would have to be submitted to the state. While plans have moved forward, the project will still have to go before the planning commission in a public hearing for review and approval. During the hearing, anyone may voice their concerns on the project. The date, time and location of the hearing was not known at the time of publication.
“If we do change the location of the project, because it was submitted meeting all of the standards, it would mean we would jeopardize the grant funding opportunity,” said Stranger.
According to the panel, there are 186 homeless in Calaveras County, most of whom are Calaveras residents. In addition, there are 24 homeless under 18 years old and 30 more that are “couch surfers” – people living with someone they know, staying on their couch. The Calaveras County Plan to End Homelessness cites 819 homeless families with children enrolled in the CalWORKS program, not including those without children, singles, unaccompanied youth 18 to 24 years old or seniors.
“The homeless people aren’t the problem … It’s services that are the problem,” said Blue Mountain Coalition of Youth and Families President Jim Casey. “I want to make sure we don’t demonize the homeless, because that makes it more difficult. Let’s talk about the causes.”
More information on Calaveras County’s plans can be found at hhsa.calaverasgov.us/homelessness and the next Calaveras County Homeless Task Force meeting will be September 26, at 1:30 p.m. in the Sequoia Room at 509 E. St. Charles St. San Andreas.