Monterey County’s homeless population climbs as critical services are cut.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
The worst moments in Danny Osborn’s 30 years living in a tent near Sand City came when teens walking in the dunes destroyed encampments for fun.
“What I worry about is somebody stealing my stuff,” he says. “I sleep real lightly, so I don’t worry about safety.”
Osborn, 61, is part of the county’s growing homeless population. The biannual homeless census, released June 28 by the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers, shows a 4-percent increase. That’s slightly higher than the county’s overall population growth, but some service providers say the jump is even larger.
The census, conducted by some 200 volunteers in January, provides only a snapshot as to how many homeless people are living in the county. But CHSP Executive Director Glorietta Rowland estimates the number at about 5,000 people, or 1 percent of the county’s total population.
“A lot of them stay under the radar,” she says. “But we do know the trend exists.”
The census reports 71 homeless people in Sand City—up from zero in 2009. Part of what makes the figures unreliable is the transient nature of the camps, which can disappear overnight.
“The encampments are left abandoned, which then requires our public works department to clean them up,” says Michael Klein, Sand City’s chief of police and public works. “These are dunes the public uses. We do not want to have someone’s child step on a hypodermic needle, broken beer bottles and the like.”
The cleanup demands are mitigated in part by the Salvation Army’s Good Samaritan Center in Sand City, the only facility of its kind on the Peninsula. The day-use center provides washing machines, hot showers and about 100 meals a day. (Dorothy’s Place in Salinas’ Chinatown provides similar services.)
“Our goal is to meet human needs without discrimination,” Director Diana Gomes says, “and make the difference of feeling like a human being.”
Gomes says the recession is responsible for the surge in need. “In the last two years, the increases I have seen are people that never requested assistance before,” she says.
Besides homelessness, there are other indicators that local residents are down on their luck. PG&E assistance was up 60 percent over last winter, and Salvation Army food box requests are up 25 percent.
To address the growing need, Rowland plans to meet June 30 with County Supervisor Simon Salinas, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue and others to release a new 10-year plan to end homelessness. The plan includes requests like building an inclement weather facility, which currently doesn’t exist anywhere in the county.
Service providers also face the reduction of federal stimulus money that helped with rental assistance, totalling $2.8 million over the last two years.
“Before [the stimulus], we did not have the resources available to assist those persons in jeopardy of becoming homeless,” Rowland says.
Meanwhile, Osborn is considering looking for a house for the first time in 30 years. When he’s not working odd jobs—moving pianos, landscaping or construction—he volunteers at the Good Samaritan Center, preparing food and helping clean.
He hopes he can continue his life on a better track: Four years ago, he met a woman at a Salvation Army meal, and she later became his wife. He soon moved from the dunes into her van, and he’s been drug-free for a year after decades of addiction.
“I feel better now,” he says. “I was a real nasty dude.”