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Homelessness in VC

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. 

VCLA – Fountain of Knowledge & Inspiration

Julius Sokenu, VCLA Cohort XXVI 

Interim President, Moorpark College

Ventura County Community College District



Prior to Friday, November 13, I did not know what it felt like to hold a drum between my legs and place my palms in a V to drum. Now I have proof that drumming is good for the heart and elevates the spirit. I did not know that Ventura is home to the eclectic Art City, an outdoor stone center created by world-renowned sculptor Paul Lindhard.  Neither did I know that at one time the city billed itself as the “Art City”.  

If you asked me a month ago, I could not have told you that California gas tax is the sole source of funding for Ventura County’s public transportation system. What shall we do when gas vehicles are phased-out as Governor Newsom proposes?  Prior to last Friday, I had heard about V, K and L shaped recovery from the pandemic. Matthew Fineup, Executive Director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University underscored that when it comes to the economy, nationally and in the county, “it’s a tale of two pandemics”. What you do and how you work defines how you experience the economic effects of COVID.

I did know that high quality arts education motivates our children’s academic achievement and that public art and the arts and entertainment sector influences the economic success of our communities. I did not know that Nobel Laureates were seventeen times more likely to be painters and fourteen times likely to be poets. Thanks Tracy Hudak for those fun facts. Yes, I did know that artists contribute to the economic vitality and the revitalization of our cities and towns. I now have some very concrete proof of that by referring to the community installations of Michelle Glass. A distinguished panel of directors of arts organizations confirmed what I suspected about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our local economy and particularly the financial devastation experienced by local arts organization. What I know is that anytime Cohort XXVI gets together it is destined to be a fun and inspiring time.  Of course, it is; we are virtually the best. Session 3 was no different.

I learnt that our county is resilient and the people and organizations continue to innovate and recommit to their mission while dealing with a global pandemic. I also learnt the aerobic value of drumming and the euphoria that resonates in the spirit after taking part in a drum circle. High fives to John Lacques of Drumtime.  I promise to attend an event of each of the art organizations that presented on Friday in the coming months.  Kudos to Pattie Braga and our remarkable guest speakers for another drink at the VCLA fountain of knowledge and inspiration.

December 20, 2019

Cityscapes

City Adventures

For session   number four, people were divided in to teams to explore assigned cities within the county. As we ventured out in the day, we reunited in Camarillo where we got to meet Dr. David El Fattal, Acting Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Business and Administrative Services for the County Community College District. He spoke about his responsibilities and one thing that stood out was how he shared that every day was different. He could be going to Wall Street one day and the next, learning about what is the best chemicals to clean the campuses restrooms.

We also had the opportunity to learn about Coffee with a Black Guy. James Joyce III, from Cohort XVII shared about how his company came to be.   What I enjoyed was how he shared personal experiences, answered tough questions and brought a sense of hope for the future as long as we continue to have a conversation.

Highlights from the groups consisted of the following:

  • Thousand Oaks – The group visited the Parks and Recreation department, where we learned it was a special district and called Conejo Valley Parks and Recreation Department. Not only did they make sure their newest park was ADA accessible, they created special trails for walking, biking, and a lot space to be able to play disc golf.
  • Oxnard – We learned how Oxnard College is struggling financially and that 90% of their students are first generation attending college.
  • Fillmore – Two highlights we learned were that 50% of the city’s income comes from Hollywood making movies in their city and the Fire Department is the only one of its kind as having only volunteers running the department.
  • Ojai – Is the oldest city in the county and one-third of the populations are older adults.
  • Moorpark – The group visited Moorpark College and we learned it was the second college in the nation that had a class/subject on how to train exotic animals.
  • Camarillo – The team decided to visit Ventura County Community Foundation. We learned it had one million in assets and has several scholarship programs and is a wish granter for the Make a Wish foundation.
  • Port Hueneme – This team had the opportunity to meet with the Chief of Police. We learned that the city was the first to adopt legalizing marijuana. While some may think that crime increased, the Chief stated that the city had not seen any negative effects. What I found interesting that the city had no freeways, no high schools, and no bars.
  • Ventura – The team had a fun time at the Poinsettia Awards where the Ventura Chamber of Commerce hosts to celebrate the best of the best. Ranging from the best in their community, to recognizing the community leaders. We also learned that the city only promotes the city by running ads in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, England, Germany, and Canada.
  • Santa Paula – A shout out was given to Elena for helping the team plan out their fun day. This group went to the Agricultural and California museums where they learned about a bee colony to their day being filled with a lot of people named Bob.
  • Simi Valley – This group shared how the Ronald Reagan Library gets half a million visitors a year to sharing about all their open space. The open space is used for hiking as the city have 50 parks and 2 RV parks.
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