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Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Jul 22

Weekly Recap - July 19, 2019

Posted on July 22, 2019 at 9:22 AM by Elena Domingo

The main topic of the week was agreement by the city council to direct staff to move forward on the next phase of implementing the recommendations of the TAC report.

As you may recall, the TAC report assessing our homeless services and feasibility of a permanent shelter made 10 recommendations.  A joint county/city Implementation Steering Committee then worked with staff to create a framework for that implementation which identified timelines, personnel, costs, and outcomes.  There is a sense of urgency about this work.  We all know we are facing a burgeoning challenge.  The goal of the implementation is to sequence the actions appropriately  in order to act as quickly and effectively as possible.

The five recommendations begin with the new position of Strategic Initiatives Manager who can execute and administer our increasing investment, and report to both county and city governments.  Some have questioned the price of $525,000 over three years.  Please keep in mind that is $175,000 per year and reflects both salary – for one or more people, plus program cost.  Leadership is critical and this investment heralds a new era of stronger coordination between city and county.

Second, the council approved the allocation of $836,000 toward the creation of a permanent shelter.  The plan is to build a modular “sprung” unit because they are fast to construct and easily modified and reconfigured.  The buildings come in several forms. Additional funds will be needed to furnish the interior. More details on this structure cannot be finalized until we find a site. Identifying the site is the critical challenge – and will be the key initial responsibility of the Strategic Initiative Manager.

The shelter is intended to house only 75 people at a time. This is based on the recommendation of the TAC report that the shelter should serve as an open door into services, not as a long term place for people to stay.  We expect consistent turnover as residents move on to more permanent housing.

Third, the council approved investment in a mobile outreach team that can meet unsheltered people where they are, rather than require them to come to services.  Building trust, relationships and understanding is essential to encourage often traumatized and easily triggered people to take a risk by entering a shelter or accessing other services.

Fourth, the council approved $60,000 for a landlord outreach program.  This has worked in other cities where they were able to maximize the use of existing housing stock through an array of options, whether that is a tax benefit to the landlord or a connection of the landlord to tenant mediation services.

And finally, the council approved $279,000 in contingency funds that can be used to meet emerging or emergency challenges – these might be identified by the mobile outreach team or by the landlord engagement process or in some other way.

Coupled with the expanded investment in Community Safety, these  efforts will make a visible and lasting difference in our community – addressing the suffering caused by homelessness and restoring confidence in the safety of our community.  I will add one more priority: we also need to work on mental health and drug addiction treatment.  This is not within the city’s departments – it is a county function.  I asked the Poverty and Homelessness Board this week to provide us with a full picture of the behavioral health services currently available so we can collectively understand our pathway to addressing this most visible challenge.