On the eve of World Homeless Day, few seats were left empty at Tuesday’s Grass Valley City Council meeting where the town’s police chief discussed partnership tactics with area agencies to deal with the homeless population.
“This is one of the largest attendance of a council (meeting) that I remember in a very long time,” said Mayor Jan Arbuckle. “I think it shows that people are very passionate about this issue.”
The homeless discussion was couched in Chief John Foster’s police department report for the fiscal year’s first quarter. Foster chose the occasion to examine the department’s three goals for the year.
While the first two goals are to improve customer service and value the department’s employees, the third goal — to reduce crimes associated with homelessness — was the one that filled the council chamber at city hall.
To contextualize the discussion, Foster said that in 2010, the 338 calls for service — or 1.2 percent of all calls — were made to the police department for issues relating to transients, homelessness, panhandling and other associated issues.
So far in 2012, 698 calls have been associated with homeless issues, representing 2.9 percent of the overall calls made for service, Foster said.
There are around 500 homeless individuals in Nevada County, according to officials at Hospitality House.
One of Foster’s tactics is an emergency response team comprised of law enforcement, Nevada County Behavioral Health and representatives from the area’s largest homeless advocate and shelter, Hospitality House, Foster said.
The vast majority of people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting addressed this kind of partnership.
“Everybody has a part in this,” said Sgt. Joe Matteoni, touching on a repeated point that everybody in the community has a stake in addressing the symptoms of homelessness in a way that is more proactive than police arrests.
In that vein, Matteoni also outlined plans to implement a Problem Oriented Policing team that looks at recurring incidents to analyze why they keep happening.
Matteoni went on to say that the department is willing to train community or neighborhood policing efforts but noted that it is up to neighborhood to keep that effort going.
“We’re trying to think out of the box,” Foster said. “We’re trying to do things different.”
Finally, Foster outlined a new judicial entity that would deal exclusively with homeless chronic offenders — similar to drug court.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson has agreed to create a homeless court for people the police chronically deal with, Foster said.
“The homeless court is not a done deal,” Foster said, noting that Anderson is still looking for a public defender to lead the new court entity.
What this specific division would allow law enforcement to do is to bring chronic homeless offenders before the court in a nonpunitive fashion to let them know that services, such as those offered by Hospitality House, are available — but without them, there will be consequences to their actions, Foster said.
“None of us in this room know when we might be one of ‘those people,’ therefore those people are us,” said Aileen Goltra, a volunteer at Hospitality House. “I have come to know these people personally and their stories. These people are human beings. I would urge all of us not to look at them as ‘those people’ and not as a problem.
“Whatever solutions we arrive at, we should be comfortable administering them to our mother or our brother.”
Much of the public comment and direction from council instructed staff to further engage related entities, such as Community Recovery Resources (CoRR) and elected officials from the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and the Nevada City Council, to further unify efforts to address homelessness.
“This is the first step,” Matteoni said. “The next step is to sit down with everybody, (the) mental health (department), the sheriff, even public works, as many people as we can. That is our ultimate goal, for everyone to be on the same page with the same goal.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.