Passions Run High in Salinas Discussion on Homelessness
January 18, 2013
A Salinas meeting yesterday to discuss homelessness in the city was the last of two, but the beginning of partnerships that will continue to address the problem, organizers said.
At the meeting, put on by the city and the Oldtown Salinas Association, dozens of residents, city leaders, and business owners gathered to carry on a talk about homelessness spurred by the brutal beating of a homeless man last October. The first meeting was in mid-December.
The issue has struck a chord in the community. The passion was made clear by written statements turned in during the last meeting, which were read by Oldtown Association president Amit Pandya last night.
One resident, who Pandya only referred to as a "highly placed citizen," called the problem a result of the "bird-feeder effect."
"Put up the bird-feeder and the birds will flock to it. And they will defecate on the patio. Not only that, the birds will sometimes attack you just for being around."
The solution, the person wrote: "Take down the bird-feeder and the birds will congregate by themselves somewhere else."
Another resident wrote that the city should take a zero tolerance policy on panhandling, but also provide more services for housing.
After the December meeting, the Oldtown Association was able to start talks with public officials about ways to curb these problems, said Pandya.
For example, the city is now considering making public an underutilized two-story garage that is restricted to permitted vehicles and has been a gathering point for the homeless and drug dealers. More activity in the garage would help make it safer and cleaner, he said.
Police are also looking into creating an early morning patrol for the Oldtown area, Pandya said.
Yesterday’s meeting also served as a direct line of communication between public officials and some of the city’s homeless. A group of homeless who live in Chinatown protested a “sweep” scheduled for the end of the month, during which they will be forced out of their tent community which occupies public land.
Don Reynolds, project manager at the Public Works Department, said the city plans on putting up a fence around the lot the homeless people are occupying, because the land is contaminated with toxic lead.
The makeshift Chinatown communities are a danger to public health, he said.
“The trash and rubbish and urination pile up and its unhealthy for everybody in the whole community,” Reynolds said.
During a public comment section, one man asked what will happen to the homeless who live in Chinatown if the area eventually becomes developed, as the city plans.
Reynolds said there are several models to provide care for the homeless inside a facility in a safe and healthy manner, rather than on the street.
Another commenter, John Wong, a retired Public Works employee, suggested using Measure E money to solve some of the city’s homelessness problem. Measure E made permanent a formerly temporary sales tax to preserve funding for public safety and libraries.
“It’s a real blight on our city to have outsiders come...and see the mess on Main Street,” he said.
Councilman Steve McShane said it’s possible that the money can be used for those issues, and encouraged the public to write their councilmembers for consideration.
Pandya said there will not be any follow-up meetings, but the city is looking into setting up a homelessness task force, similar to a graffiti task force it already operates.
“Things are moving,” he said.