Members of the Ceres City Council last week received a 35-minute report about a countywide effort to reduce homelessness.
Brad Hawn, chairman of the Stanislaus Homeless Alliance, spoke about the two-year development of a 119-page strategic plan to tackle homelessness and asked the city of Ceres to consider what it can to provide housing.
“We know there’s that fear that if you start providing services, there’s going to be more people come,” said Hawn. “There’s a balance point somewhere there to provide for people that are willing to make a change. They’re out there. It takes a lot of contacts but they’re there ready to go.”
Hawn, a former Modesto City Councilman and licensed structural engineer, said public service is in his blood so that motivates his involvement.
All funding for homeless programs is overseen by a Community System of Care (CSOC) managed by HUD. He said COVID resulted in the state flushing through a lot of relief money. The result of that was the creation of the Stanislaus Homeless Alliance which is made up of public members and elected officials.
Hawn offered a “snapshot” of the homeless problem, admitting that while HUD requires a Point in Time count of the homeless each January, it is “really not data , it’s anecdotal data … that does give us a feel for what’s out there.”
He used the example of Waterford, a small city which shows very few homeless persons because they were at a church function on the day of counting.
He said Ceres’ close proximity to Modesto “makes it difficult who’s on first sometimes.”
Hawn suggested that the public routinely sees the drug-addicted and mentally ill on the streets but “there’s a whole bunch of folks that we don’t see that are homeless that are couch surfacing, they’re just off the radar.”
He outlined the eight goals of the Alliance:
1). Increase the availability of permanent housing for homeless persons.
2). Increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and other programs for well-being.
3). Achieve “equity” in governance, outreach, provision of services to vulnerable and “historically underserved subpopulations.”
4). Increase coordination of services.
5). Increase pathways to community services that support self-sufficiency.
6). Increase participation of former homeless people in decision making.
7). Strategically support homelessness prevention.
8). Improve coordination of homeless programs to further public health and safety.
While he said it’s not his job to tell Ceres what to do, he wants to see every agency with resources aligned so Ceres can do what it wants.
He noted that Modesto is building a structure for a 14-room Homekey project for youth coming out of foster care. Hawn said Ceres could possibly undertake a similar but smaller project, such as purchasing and working with a non-profit organization to fix up a house.
“That’s the goal is to just get some synergy with respect to addressing the homeless situation in our cities and county,” said Hawn.
Hawn said he had a change of heart when he realized that the homeless in his Graceada Park area are his “neighbors” as opposed to thinking of them as “somebody that I just don’t want to be around.”
“I began to start meeting them and finding out that, to a large degree, they’re not the knuckleheads that are stealing my stuff out of my garage. Maybe some but most of the ones I talk to weren’t.”
Hawn said most of the homeless are geographic.
“Somebody that’s in Oakdale doesn’t want to come to Modesto for services. Most are that way.”
He said the cities and county should improve communication about solutions.
Hawn suggested that those wanting to get into a local inpatient drug treatment program have to wait a week or two and will be impatient and most move on. His idea is to give a homeless person a voucher for a month’s worth of free hotel stay with a case manager as they work toward the program.
“I think the key is more of this care team that are actually out there having contact with homeless individuals over and over and over again, building a report with them, helping them see that maybe there’s a better way out. If you’ve been homeless for 10 years chronically on the streets, the only thing you can think about is what your next fix is. That’s why you see them walk across the street and not look for a car. I always look for a car because I don’t want to get hit but they’re focused on something completely different. And again I think that’s a small percentage of the homeless that we see but those are the ones that take the most resources, those that are using the ambulance to go to the hospital.”
Hawn suggested the approach of relying on the police to handle the homeless is not working.
“That’s really not their job,” said Hawn. “They’re not social workers; they’re policemen. I think what we’re trying to do is build a system behind the police department so … they have a team that goes out, a mental health worker, a nurse and folks like that.”
According to Hawn, funding is available for programs but the problem is getting non-profit organizations with the capacity to provide services.