Grass Valley to discuss vagrancy solutions
October 10, 2012
With an increased homeless population in western Nevada County, Grass Valley's police chief will present an overview of his department's plans to address the issue at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
On the eve of World Homeless Day, much of Chief John Foster's presentation will focus on new partnerships with area agencies that deal with the community's homeless folks.
Two of those are a new judicial division to deal exclusively with homeless chronic offenders and an emergency response team comprised of law enforcement, behavior health experts and representatives from the area's largest homeless advocate and shelter, Hospitality House, Foster said.
"The idea is that there are some folks that choose to go into homelessness that don't want to seek any assistance. What I am doing is talking about the enforcement methods we use to deal with those folks," Foster said. "We are taking a community policing oriented approach to do a variety of things to address our homeless challenges."
“The goal is to talk with them and see what we can do to get them connected to services.”
— Cindy maple, executive director, Hospitality House
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson has agreed to create a homeless court for people the police chronically deal with, Foster said.
"Many of these people aren't committing serious crimes; they are nuisance issues and they aren't held accountable because the court can don't much at this point," Foster said.
What this specific division would allow law enforcement to do is to bring them before the court in a non-punitive fashion to let them know that services such as those offered by Hospitality House are available that without them, there will consequences to their actions, Foster said.
Anderson is on the hunt for a public defender for the new court entity, Foster reported.
In 2011, western Nevada County's three fire agencies fought 15 wildland fires that were determined to have been started at homeless camps, according to the Nevada County Consolidated Fire Department.
And each of the 20 or so times the agencies went out to investigate a report of smoke at the camps, it cost taxpayers $25,000.
Nationally, the cost of doing nothing at all to help homeless people lift themselves up costs up to $55,000 per homeless person yearly in responses by law enforcement, fire agencies and medical providers including hospitals, according to homeless advocate Reinette Senum, a former Nevada City councilwoman.
Concurrently to the new court division, the idea for the emergency task force is to approach people that are generating the most calls for service and developing strategies for each, said Hospitality House Executive Director Cindy Maple, who estimates the county houses around 500 homeless people.
"The goal is not to simply go out and arrest them," Maple said. "The goal is to talk with them and see what we can do to get them connected to services, to work with them to modify their behavior. Our goal is to develop strategies for each person."
In addition to the police department's goals for the year to provide exceptional customer assistance and value employees is an aim to address the city's homeless challenges, Foster said.
But simply arresting someone doesn't help them out of homelessness, Maple said.
"If people aren't focused on helping someone, nothing changes," Maple said.
"For those that are in need of help … we need to find a way to reach out," Foster added. "The only other piece to incorporate is to involve the entire community. It's not just up to the police to resolve it — it takes the entire community."
Members of the council have called on the public to attend the meeting. Open session for the public begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Grass Valley City Hall.
An agenda can be found by visiting http://www.TheUnion.com, clicking on this story and downloading the attachments.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.