GUSTINE - City officials are marshaling resources to address concerns surrounding homelessness.
City Manager Doug Dunford, and Lt. Samuel Joseph, who is overseeing day-to-day operations of the Gustine Police Department, recently said that they are reaching out to county resources and sending personnel to specialized training as part of that initiative.
They acknowledged, though, that no single solution or approach exists to address issues related to homeless.
Joseph raised the issue in his comments at a January City Council meeting.
He said that he attended a conference on the topic of homelessness, and that local authorities will be attending future training sessions on the topic.
In Gustine, the numbers of homeless remain relatively low, Joseph noted. But, he cautioned, issues relating to homelessness will become more difficult to address if those numbers increase.
“In Gustine we have our primary (homeless) people. It is a small group of five or six and we know who they are,” he told Mattos Newspapers. But, Joseph added, there have also been occasional arrivals of new homeless people.
“We try to see who they are, and we identify them right away. We don’t let them go unnoticed,” said Joseph, emphasizing that police do not harass those individuals but do make regular contact. “We make sure that they know us and that we know them.”
Additional training and education on homelessness are essential, he said.
Joseph said he has also conferred with the district attorney and other county officials - including probation - as part of that campaign.
“We are looking at what other cities are doing and how they are working with the homeless. The county of Merced is reaching out and trying to develop some programs,” Dunford commented. “I think we will piggyback on some of their ideas. We are not a big city that will provide a lot of services.”
The emphasis, Joseph and Dunford said, is to make resources available to those who are open to help. Not all are, they said.
“We’re looking at doing what we can do to help maintain the quality of life that our citizens deserve but also help the homeless,” the city manager explained. “There are a certain percentage who want to be homeless; there are some people out there who want help but don’t know how to ask.”
“We have provided offers of help,” Joseph agreed. “We want to provide them ways to get to services.”
Part of the process is balancing rights - which officials acknowledged can be a challenging process.
“(Homeless people) have rights too. You have a right as a person to walk down the street without worrying about stepping on somebody’s sleeping bag,” Dunford stated. “The other person has the right to sleep on the sidewalk, according to the Supreme Court. We have to find a happy medium.”
Ordinances can be one tool in addressing issues relating to homelessness, Joseph said.
The city, for example, has adopted an ordinance which closes parks to use during overnight hours.
Joseph discourages residents from inviting the homeless into their homes or onto their property.
“I have had people say that they invited them in. I don’t recommend that,” said Joseph, adding that in some cases the gesture of kindness can be construed as an open invitation or otherwise lead to problems. “There are other ways of helping them.”
Essentially, Dunford and Joseph said, their goal is to stay ahead of issues surrounding homelessness to the greatest degree possible.
“We can’t sit here and say that we are going to worry about it later,” Dunford concluded. “We want to be sure that we are prepared.”