Thursday, March 19, 2009

New tactics for combating homelessness: Stockton

New tactics for combating homelessness
Task force floats tent city in call for multifaceted approach in S.J. Jennifer Torres

STOCKTON - The problems that contribute to homelessness in San Joaquin County are wide-ranging, said the people who attended the second meeting of an ad hoc task force on homelessness Wednesday morning. They noted drug and alcohol addiction, crime, unemployment and lack of affordable housing.

"You're not going to solve this with any one answer, because there isn't one problem," said Bill Brown of the Gospel Center Rescue Mission.

In the roughly three weeks since the task force met for the first time - a meeting prompted by the dismantling of encampments built on California Department of Transportation property under the Crosstown and Interstate 5 freeways - a homeless worker was killed by a car while he was on his way to a campsite under an overpass and St. Mary's Interfaith Community Services announced the closure of its Transitional Learning Center school for homeless children.

The events were unrelated but nonetheless underscore the multifaceted nature of homelessness in the county and illustrate the lack of resources that makes addressing the issue a challenge.

Wednesday morning's meeting drew representatives from churches as well as from government and nonprofit agencies to the Stribley Park Community Center. Many in the audience already are serving the homeless, and some argued that what is called for is better coordination of programs that already exist.

Others brought up conflicting community interests that further complicate efforts to confront homelessness.

David Brewer is director of St. Mary's Interfaith, which provides hot meals, clothing, showers and other services. He protested and tried to stop last month's removal of homeless people camping on Caltrans property.

"The group that was removed, what was working for them is they were near to us," Brewer said. "The services have to be connected."

Capt. Troy Broddrick of the Stockton Police Department responded, "It creates a problem with other folks who say, 'I don't want that near my business,' and we also have to respond to that."

A recent census tallied about 2,800 homeless people in the county, including about 150 who aren't sheltered.

To deal with homelessness, Brown said, "I think it takes an attitude change on the part of the community."

He said the current state of the economy could be creating that change as homelessness creeps closer to more families.

"They've got brothers, sisters, neighbors, children who are now unemployed," he said. "It's time for tent cities. ... You have the attitude of the community maybe ready to accept this kind of thing, and maybe if it's done right, it can stick around."

Stockton Councilwoman Susan Eggman, who has led the task force meetings, suggested the creation of a smaller Community Coalition for Homeless that could improve coordination and communication among organizations.

Contact reporter Jennifer Torres at (209) 546-8252 or


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Peter S. Lopez aka: Peta

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