As homelessness in Riverside County continues to increase and impact communities across the county, including Idyllwild, a regional response to the county’s homeless crisis has been proposed.
Hemet City Councilmember Karlee Meyer and Project Hope II Founder Stacie Olson proposed a plan to Third District Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington. The two women co-founded the Homeless Outreach Team and the “Know Where It Goes” campaign, aimed to educate people on where their money goes when they give to panhandlers. The campaign urges people to give money to organizations that assist in getting people off the streets. It is a partnership between Hemet and San Jacinto Valley nonprofit groups.
“Instead of being proactive, we are being reactive,” said Olson.
“Law enforcement is overburdened,” said Washington.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department had the following response when asked what the department spends annually on transient, homeless and quality of life issues: “The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is committed to the issues surrounding quality of life and homelessness. Countywide the department funds two deputy positions committed to homelessness. They work to link county stations and station homeless liaisons to services offered by county partners, nonprofits, and other agencies who work closely with those issues surrounding quality of life.
“Each patrol station also has at least one deputy designated to issues of homelessness and quality of life. That does not include the calls patrol deputies respond to on a day-to-day basis. It would be very difficult to quantify the cost, in response to these issues. We are committed to making our communities safer, and welcoming to all, while still respecting the rights of the citizens we serve.”
Just down the mountain, the Hemet Police Department alone spends $2,272,017 annually, according to the presentation given by Meyer and Olson.
The homeless, transient and quality of life issues are pulling resources away from law enforcement being able to adequately deal with crime throughout the state.
Other city and county departments are impacted by cleaning up parks, repairing public restrooms, mental health and medical aid calls, fires, and having debris and personal items removed from the street or encampment.
The plan proposed by Meyer and Olson outlines immediate need. Chronic homelessness is on the rise, an 88% increase from 2018, according to the Point-in-Time Count taken this past January. The count identified 766 sheltered and 2,045 unsheltered adults and children countywide. Cities shift the homeless population to another city using law enforcement. This does not solve the problem. It only makes it look like homelessness has declined, when in reality, it hasn’t declined at all.
Some communities are convinced that other surrounding communities are sending homeless individuals to their cities. Washington says that is not true.
The plan proposes an area or facility on county property designated for the homeless that includes wrap-around services that treats mental health and substance abuse, teaches fiscal responsibility, job training and more.
“The communities are recognizing that there is not one solution to homelessness,” said Washington. “There are many reasons someone can become homeless. We are not going to round everyone up and put them in one location. It is not a reality.”
As of right now, the county is “trying to create a structure with a quick point of contact to hand off the individual to someone that can help,” Washington told the Town Crier. “What we lack right now is a coordinated entry system and adequate housing. It is fiscally inefficient to buy a bunch of beds if we do not know what we are getting.”
Washington went to Sacramento a few months back to ask the state to assist with resources. There is a desire to turn the inpatient mental health facility in Riverside to an outpatient facility and build another inpatient facility projected to cost $120 million. He is optimistic that the state will help since it is looking to bring solutions to homelessness and mental health.