By Chris Frost
Oxnard—The Oxnard City Council returned from hiatus, Sept. 3, and heard complaints during public comments about the homeless situation in the city.
City Manager Alex Nguyen introduced a housing first plan to the council before the break and told them to be patient with the plan, which can take up to 10 years to rectify the situation.
Pat Brown suggested setting off stink bombs so the encampment would smell so bad they would leave.
Paul Barickman told the council that he was "flabbergasted" that Plaza Park is full of bums with shopping carts, tarps, and camping out.
"I called the city and spoke to a gentleman, and he was accommodating," he said. "We spoke for about 20 minutes. I expressed concern, and he said they are unable to arrest people because if we don't have a bed to offer them, there was some hearing at the Supreme Court. It still doesn't take away from the fact that Plaza Park is a pigsty now. Even if we can't force them out, camping, public defecation, urination and using drugs are an arrestable offense. I think something can be done and hiding while we are waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court before we can forcibly remove them from the park."
He suggested maintaining the lawn at the park and fixing the problem.
"Turn the sprinklers on every hour," he said. "Something as simple as that will discourage them from camping out at the park."
Nguyen said the situation is frustrating to everyone, including the city staff.
"We have so many staff working on this issue," he said. "They're constantly being bombarded with allegations the city isn't doing anything. We did a recent enforcement action at Ormond Beach, and for this calendar year, our police department has responded to almost 90,000 calls for service. Of those, 40,599 were related to the homeless."
In the current calendar year, officers have made 6,141 arrests, he said, and out of all the arrests, 1,771 involve the homeless and transients.
"There have been 21 arrests this year related to homeless calls," he said. "In addition to that, we have a slew of efforts to address homelessness. We worked on a five-year plan, we have a home service team, we have a shelter open 24-hours, and we did bring in a new housing director. We concluded a contract with Mercy House, which is a non-profit to keep the homeless shelter operating. We have the police with their homeless liaison officers on the streets regularly with the help of the county. The Fire Department and EMS have responded to more than 1,500 calls and continue encampment abatements."
Additionally, the city has an ongoing effort going on at Plaza Park and Ormond Beach, he said, plus they received housing vouchers from HUD to apply to the homeless.
"We have a homeless commission to plan and strategize, and we have an ongoing partnership with the City and County of Ventura," he said. "Overall, between us and the county, and the healthcare community, we spend nearly $4 million annually."
He acknowledges the problem doesn't seem to be getting better, and the solution is not as quick as everyone wants.
"The frustration mounted at Ormond Beach, and we took some drastic enforcement actions," Nguyen said. "Because we have these concerns from Oxnard residents to city council members, plus concerns from the Hueneme city residents because of the encampments out on the beach and associated environmental impact in regards to sensitive habitat."
As soon as the city started the effort, it received concerns from other interested parties.
"We received an email from the State Coastal Conservancy recognizing that we need to act, but not all of the actions will be long-term solutions," he said. "The State Coastal Conservancy asked where they (the homeless) will go?"
The city also got mail from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, he said, and "In their opening sentence, they were expressing concerns, based on our actions, for the federally protected birds' nest area."
From there, the city got emails from residents expressing concerns about safety for kids and whether or not Ormond Beach needs a 24-hour patrol.
"The solutions are not going to come easy, and the options are complicated," he said. "We're doing our best and making a lot of effort. It's not going to clean itself up overnight."
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