Erika Singletary, VCLA Cohort XXVI
Operations Specialist II, Ventura County Office of Education
The temperatures this winter in Ventura County have been higher than average and we are behind in the average rainfall. For some, this represents drought conditions, to others however, it means that they may be able to cope with the elements a little easier while they are experiencing homelessness.
A few weeks ago, while running holiday errands with my husband, I noticed a middle-aged woman who was using the entrance of a vacant building to shelter herself from the elements. She had a coat, some blankets, and a shopping cart filled with her belongings. I asked my husband to stop by a drive through on our way back and we gave her some food. I remember feeling powerless and wanting to do more. I’ve been praying for her ever since. As I tuck myself in my cozy bed, I wonder if she is warm enough at night, I wonder when it was the last time she spoke with someone she cared about, but most of all, I wonder if she is safe.
As we began our VCLA session on Housing, Land Use, and Homelessness held on January 8th, I was eager to learn how I might be able to help those members of our community who are experiencing homelessness. The morning opened up with former VCLA member Tara Carruth, MSW, from Ventura County Continuum of Care at the County of Ventura. She shared the solution to homelessness is housing. Tara reminded us of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Housing is part of the basic needs of a person. When someone doesn’t have to worry about their basic needs, they can be empowered to seek help for any other conditions that may have led them to be without a home. These conditions may be substance abuse, mental or physical illness, or a natural disaster. Tara shared data on how our county is struggling to meet the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness.
The lack of affordable housing was a consistent message we heard from our speakers throughout our session. Which is one of the biggest reasons there is such a big gap between the number of people served, and people moved into either housing or temporary placements.
Nicholas Deitch, Founding Partner of Mainstreet Architects shared what are very promising plans to address the affordable housing shortage in our county. He shared plan renderings of mixed used buildings where people can access affordable housing, close to where they work, access to small shops, and beautiful rooftop lofts where residents can enjoy a sense of community. The challenge comes from residents who fear building multiple story apartment buildings, may change their neighborhood in a negative way. Traffic, safety, and property value are among the higher areas of concern. However, there is no data that supports those concerns.
We also had the privilege of hearing from Rafael Stoneman, Mobile Veteran Outreach from the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. He shared his own anecdotes in his efforts to connect veterans who are experiencing homelessness with resources, services, and in the best-case scenarios, housing. It was very moving to hear from him and the stories he shared. They illustrated the different levels of challenges people are faced with when for example, their car which they are using as shelter, is taken to the pound leaving a person completely without resources. If they don’t have the money to pay the many fees to the pound and the city, the car eventually gets sold for scrap. It seems we should be able to provide some sort of leniency to those that are in dire need. Particularly, in these times of a pandemic where those who are most underserved are at such higher risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.
Just as I was connecting the pieces and wondering how we can take action, as I am sure it was the case with all of my cohort, Max Ghenis, Co-founder & Co-lead of Ventura County YIMBY, shared ways in which YIMBY is organizing to support building plans to address the affordable housing shortage very much like those Mr. Deitch shared. When these plans are submitted to city councils for approval, it is more often you hear from those who are afraid these plans may compromise their community. Becoming more involved voicing our support for housing plans during these meetings, sharing the housing need, the positive effects it will have in the county as a whole, is extremely important to be able to help these plans move forward. Anyone who is interested can visit https://cayimby.org/ for more information.
A virtual tour to the River Haven tiny homes was one of the highlights of our session. Suki Sir virtually walked us through the site where 23 tiny houses are currently sheltering members of our community. Community members who are currently River Haven residents, are connected with services and resources including mental health, rehab centers, job placement, etc. Because, as we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, once a person has the basic needs, they can move forward with the other conditions that contributed to their inability to secure a home.
During our session, we also heard from; Eric Harrison, President & CEO of United Way of Ventura County, Barton Stern, President of Ventura Investment Co., and Tim Gallagher, Vistage Advisory Group Chair and President of The 20/20 Network. All of our speakers were informative and inspirational. I know I share the feeling with my entire cohort of giving ourselves a call to action to collaborate with each other and the entire VCLA Alumni to support our efforts to address the high need for affordable housing in our county. I very much look forward for opportunities to make a difference and a positive impact not only for that one woman I encountered, but for the many who are experiencing homelessness.