As we continue with the Shelter in Place Order issued by the Health Officer of Contra Costa County, I think we a can all appreciate the profound changes to our daily lives. Our community, like many others, has been disrupted and it is a test of our resilience, our resolve, and our commitment to one another to abide by the order that has been put into place. It is also a time where our patience may be tested, especially when we see or hear things that are outside the norm.
One of the most recent visible changes outside the norm taking place in our City are the homeless encampments that have gotten attention near the waterfront and the Amphitheater. We have been hearing and receiving complaints from folks that are frustrated by the number of homeless in the area. I am sure that to a degree, many folks are wondering what the City and Police Department are doing, as we typically abate encampments as quickly as we can and try to help get folks assistance through various service providers with the goal of getting them into housing.
Since the order to Shelter in Place was issued, one of the directives was to stop clearing encampments to prevent people from spreading COVID-19. As the CDC has pointed out, and as outlined in the most recent order to Shelter in Place, clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community. This causes people to break connections with service providers and ultimately, this creates an increase in the potential for spreading this infectious disease. More information can be found on the order from the Health Officer as well from the CDC at the following links:
What this means for us is that we are abiding by the order from the Health Officer to leave encampments alone. As a best practice to keep the entire community safe, we are not displacing anyone living in a homeless encampment. In fact, the State offered assistance to cities and counties to work with the homeless population; for us, this translated into securing four porta-potties with hand washing stations through Contra Costa County specifically for use by those that are homeless. Since the directive was to keep people in place, the grants have been focused on providing sanitation and restroom capability for those that are unhoused.
We have made great strides in addressing homelessness over the last few years. For more information on what we have accomplished, you can click on this link:
Given the pandemic, we have had to adjust priorities and ensure we are doing our part to maintain compliance with the Order from the Health Officer in the County. This means that we have stopped abating homeless encampments. Prior to the pandemic we were addressing encampment clean ups. Since the pandemic, we have stopped all camp clean ups and folks are camping out more openly. For example, you will find a group at Ferry Point and another at the Amphitheater. You may also find other encampments throughout the city.
As a result, we have gotten increased complaints about the homeless. I can tell you that our officers have been out and about enforcing social distancing protocols, as best as we can, through education and constant reminders to include at homeless encampments. We have had some folks at the encampments that have been disruptive and when we are notified, we have officers intervene. Many of the folks in Marina are camping in their cars. Recently, we had an individual camped out in a tent at Ferry Point and after speaking with an officer he elected to move to a different location. We are being as responsive as we can to address issues that are brought to our attention. Should you encounter an issue in which you need us to intervene, please call our Dispatch Center at 925-372-3440.
The amphitheater has also become an area where the homeless are camping to shelter in place. The group at the Amphitheater is going to great lengths to keep to themselves, keep the area clean, and not create disturbances for others. There were some issues early with this location, but between outreach groups and the police department, the area is in fairly good shape.
So, what does all of this mean for our community? Well, it means that we are in a time of crisis and we need your help with patience and understanding. We have some vulnerable folks in our community that are living on the streets. We need to keep encampments intact to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and just as important, we have a fundamental responsibility to help those that are less fortunate. This means that we are going to leave encampments where they are until we get updated guidance from the County on when to abate encampments. When the time comes to move folks, we are going to be thoughtful about how we do it, try to help people, and use this as a learning lesson in terms of how we can be better prepared the next time we encounter a situation in which we may have to shelter in place. The Shelter in Place has been tough on everyone and we really need our community to be patient with us.
We are in difficult times and many in our community are less fortunate. For those that are homeless, many are trapped in a cycle of despair and we are trying to change that. As a community, we have made great strides with helping the homeless, but we hit a roadblock with this pandemic and as a result, you are seeing more and more encampments popping up. Please be patient as this is just temporary, and we need to do our part to prevent the spread of this dangerous virus.
I hope this clarifies what you are seeing and why. It isn’t that we are turning a blind eye and we are ignoring your complaints. We are balancing everyone’s needs during the time of this pandemic and once things get better, we can go back to business as usual. In the meantime, let’s all focus on staying healthy, safe, and mindful that we are part of a pretty amazing community.