By Chair of the Board Stacy Miller
It’s no secret that cities across the country are dealing with the impacts of homelessness. In Oxnard, Ventura County’s largest city, lives the county’s largest number of homeless, estimated at about 700 individuals.
For Oxnard City Manager Alex Nguyen, it is a daily work effort for his staff and the Oxnard Police Department that has cost the city $3.2 million over two years.
“It is frustrating to hear people say that the city isn’t doing anything to deal with the impacts of homelessness in Oxnard,” laments Nguyen. "There isn’t a day that goes by that we aren’t responding to calls regarding issues surrounding homeless individuals.”
Nguyen’s frustration centers on the fact that the funding approved by California voters is slow in making its way to cities that deal with the issues every day. In fact, the state has about $2 billion in housing and homeless funding, but those funds are not being provided for the day-to-day urgent problems cities confront.
“The city does not condone vagrancy. We are spending millions on police services and code enforcement, all of which do nothing to get anyone off the street for any length of time,” he stated.
Nguyen subscribes to the “housing first” model, which, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting or attending to substance abuse and mental health issues.
But that costs money which Nguyen believes is the responsibility of the state. Right now, Nguyen and his team are working with various partners, including neighboring cities, Ventura County and private developers, to identify potential sites in Oxnard for future housing, utilizing eventual state and other funding sources.
“If communities are going to really make an impact with homelessness, then it is going to take the combined efforts of government, business, nonprofit organizations and individuals,” he said. “This is one of the big challenges of our era that will require active participation, funding and coordination on many levels."
How Businesses Can Help
For Oxnard-based businesses dealing with the day-to-day impacts of homelessness, the issue is a volatile one. Businesses have expressed frustration with public intoxication, trash and other homelessness issues that hamper their businesses. But rather than just complain, Nguyen is urging businesses to be a small part of the solution.
“Businesses can help the issue by doing a few simple things: consider cutting hedges around their businesses to prevent people from sleeping there; consider bringing on private security; and also be willing to hire one or two formerly homeless individuals,” explains Nguyen. “Having a job is a vital component of regaining life stability.”
While it is important that everyone do their part, Nguyen emphasizes that the ultimate funding source is the state, and if cities don’t receive direct funding to fight homelessness, we all will continue to experience degrading quality of life.
“The state currently provides direct funding through the biggest 13 cities. This is very frustrating for local governments. Every day we are spending money and time on everything from chasing down shopping carts and cleaning up trash, to responding to calls about public urination and vagrancy,” adds Nguyen. “There are so many other things we need to get done in Oxnard but if we don’t do a better job of housing the homeless, we won’t be able to get there."
Clearly, our city manager is frustrated with the lack of financial and other assistance to aid the homelessness crisis. Please consider contacting your elected officials and the governor’s office regarding this important issue.
Nguyen will give an update on several initiatives and issues impacting the business community at the Chamber's exclusive luncheon on September 12. Click the image below for details.