MARTINEZ, Calif. – “It’s working,” Vice Mayor Noralea Gipner jubilantly announced to the city council about a pilot program designed to help resolve the seemingly intractable homeless situation in Martinez.
She and Martinez Police Community Resource Officer (CRO) Rodney Brinser teamed up to approach it as a health as a safety issue, and Gipner is turning it into a larger collaboration.
She has been doing extensive research and networking to discover the most expeditious way to meet the immediate needs of local homeless persons, and help them become able to handle their own needs in the future.
Once a week in August, new restrooms with showers were delivered to a downtown location, a medical unit and social services experts were there to advise homeless persons of potential housing opportunities and other services.
After the pleasure of a shower, haircut and clean clothing Gipner said a chronically homeless woman agreed to accept long term housing. That event is consistent with other data Gipner has gathered.
Her efforts to find solutions for the homeless brought her into contact with Donna Colombo at the Trinity Center in Walnut Creek. That organization has had successes in resolving problems associated with homelessness in Walnut Creek. It has moved from its location nest to the church to Trinity 1300 Boulevard Way (with a shuttle), until its new home, St. Pauls Common is completed.
One tip was that “people relate to, and help the homeless more if they blend in,” according to Gipner’s report at the Sept. 4 council meeting. Her seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm have garnered the collaboration of the city council, The Bay Church and The CORE (Contra Costa County’s Community Outreach program for health, housing and homelessness).
Through its Clean Start program, The Bay Church has been providing two free loads of laundry (with soap and other necessities) a month at a local laundromat for years. Their volunteer experience interfacing with the homeless led to the church’s acquisition of four new complete bathrooms on a mobile unit that can be delivered to a location near the laundry. Guests are provided with hair cuts, other necessities, information, and a sense of fellowship at the same time.
The location of the showers, along with the other services will continue on Wednesdays but move from Green Street to the parking lot near the sports complex on the other side of the railroad tracks north of Ferry Street for more room.
Now Gipner Is organizing a meeting with local faith-based leaders, and a committee to get porta-potties in a discreet location downtown, at the waterfront and near the horse arena and baseball fields. “These are not just for homeless people, these are for residents at events, shoppers and visitors too,” she insisted.
Gipner attended the Sept. 5 Contra Costa Council on Homelessness meeting with an agenda focused on funding allocations and a list of 39 acronyms on the back so attendees could keep up. In July the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development announced there would be $15.4 million available to help people looking for shelter. That includes low income and homeless individuals and families, regardless of the reason. Sept. 27 is the deadline for application.
All of the Contra Costa non-profits and local agencies compete for each locale’s portion of the funds, depending on the perceived need, which is determined by a homeless count and other data. It is a fairly complicated process to qualify and groups without at least a one-year track record will likely be on the second tier of choices if qualified at all.
Gipner got a taste of what is ahead for the 501-C she is in the process of assembling, along with a board of directors. She said the opportunities are quicker and better working through a local non-profit than the government, but she has taken a deep dive into public services of all kinds to deal with the homeless in Martinez.
She credits the results to support from the mayor, the city council and Police Chief Manjit Sappal, and is looking for more volunteers, clothing, and members for the 501-C board of directors.