Richmond considers declaring homeless problem a ‘crisis’

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At its meeting Tuesday, the Richmond City Council is set to discuss whether to declare the city’s homeless problem a “public health crisis” and to take additional measures to address it.

The proposed declaration comes more than a year after the city established a Homeless Task Force to study the problem, and after Richmond agreed to commit additional resources and to develop a five-year strategy to address homelessness in response to a Contra Costa County Grand Jury Report on the issue. Those pledged would move forward should the city adopt a resolution Tuesday declaring the homelessness in the city at the level of a public health crisis.

During a 16-month period from January 2017 and April 2018, members of the Contra Costa County’s relatively new CORE program (Coordinated Outreach Referral and Engagement) contacted 721 homeless individuals within the city of Richmond, according to the task force. Of those surveyed, 35.51-percent said they’d been homeless for more than 63 months in their lifetimes, while nearly 60-percent reported having a disability, the task force states. The top three disabilities reported were mental health condition, chronic health condition and substance abuse.

Advocates say everyone suffers when these individuals aren’t assisted. Last year, the average cost of abating three homeless encampments per month in Richmond was $36,000, according to the city. Meanwhile, the Richmond Fire Department responded to over a dozen fires as a direct result of encampments.

The City of Richmond’s Homeless Task Force that has been studying this issue is made up of over 30 individuals, including residents, council members, homeless advocates and individuals, nonprofits, faith leaders and city and county staff.

Members of the task force — along with county officials, who recorded an uptick in its homeless Point in Time Count earlier this year, with the number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals increasing from 109 in 2017 to 270 in 2018 — have cited the Bay Area housing crisis as one of the drivers of increased homelessness.

The Homeless Taskforce says the problem “should be reviewed closely through the lens of public health and equity” and say “long-term models” are needed to address the challenges.