Solano County

Community looks at how tackle homeless problem

By From page A1 | June 29, 2014

homeless 6_16_14

The Tobie family, from left to right, Sumayyah, 2, Monisha, Isaiah, 3, and Kevin, are currently staying at the Heather House shelter in Fairfield. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD — Kevin and Monisha Tobie have lived in motels and homeless shelters. They are making a change.

They are staying at the Heather House shelter in Fairfield as they try to transition to having a place of their own. The couple has two children, 3-year-old Isaiah and 2-year-old Sumayyah.

That transition started with Kevin Tobie getting a job with a contractor and Monisha Tobie getting a job at a restaurant. They rent a sparsely furnished Heather House apartment for $600 a month. They are looking to rent their own apartment or, better yet, a house.

Kevin Tobie said he is motivated to make a change from a transient lifestyle.

“I’ve been in three shelters,” he said. “I’m 28 years old. I’m married. I have kids.”

The Tobies are trying to create a success story. Community leaders want to see more of that, even as they reassess how to deal with the challenge of helping the homeless.

“In the coming year, you’ll be hearing about a lot of different things,” Fairfield Police Chief Walt Tibbet said.

Solano County has 4,000 to 5,000 people homeless each night, said Ron Marlette of the Mission Solano shelter. Some people were pushed over the edge into homelessness during the Great Recession, he said.

Talk of how to help the homeless has come up in various venues during recent months. For example, it came up April 30 at the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce state of the cities breakfast.

Present efforts to help the homeless are fragmented, Tibbet said at the breakfast. He talked of developing a plan that provides interventions to get people out of homelessness.

Suisun City resident Steve Lessler mentioned talking to homeless people and asking them why they didn’t go to a shelter. They answered they had been kicked out of a local shelter for drug and alcohol issues. He wondered aloud how to deal with this problem.

“You hit the nail on the head,” said David White, the Fairfield assistant city manager when that April 30 meeting took place and now city manager.

Tibbet recently elaborated on that “state of the cities” discussion. He said Fairfield’s blight task force – which includes the Police and Public Works departments – is talking with the county and service providers about how to better address homelessness.

“It’s a very healthy thing for us to do on a regular basis anyway,” Tibbet said. “This is a good time for us to do it.”

With the 2014-15 city budget, the Police Department will add a sergeant and two police officers to form a homeless team, a city report said. This team is to gather information on the homeless, enforce existing laws and work with community groups, homeless service providers and Solano County to help the homeless get vital services, it said.

Tibbet at the April 30 meeting mentioned the “unintentional consequences of some people’s compassion.”

Elaborating, he said people sometimes give cash to homeless people who are already getting meals at local shelters. Some homeless people spend this cash on drugs and alcohol, he said.

As an alternative, he mentioned that Mission Solano is encouraging people to give out certificates to the homeless that can be redeemed at Mission Solano for food and services.

Marlette of Mission Solano said there are two kinds of homeless people: the chronic homeless and temporary homeless. The chronic homeless are people who have been homeless for a year or more, he said.

Solano County has resources to help anyone who is tired of being chronically homeless, Marlette said. The community faces the issue of how to unify these resources, he said.

“I think we’re going to see some really positive steps going forward,” Marlette said.

He believes Solano County can practice a little more “tough love,” since it has resources to help the homeless. The community can let people know that sleeping in parks and urinating behind businesses is not an option, he said.

“You either get help or we have to move you along,” Marlette said.

Some homeless people make $100 to $200 a day panhandling, Marlette said. They organize to be at different locations at different times, he said.

It takes a crisis for someone to want to change his or her life, Marlette said. He talked of “true compassion” that empowers homeless people and doesn’t enable them.

About 80 percent of the chronically homeless have mental health issues, Marlette said. They need a place to get stabilized on their medications and to understand the importance of staying stabilized.

Mission Solano kicks out clients for using drugs and alcohol, but not permanently.

“If they are not a harm to themselves and our staff and volunteers, we’ll definitely let them back in,” Marlette said.

Heather House Executive Director Samina Masood said another factor is needed to address the homeless issue – money.

“Intervention does work,” Masood said. “It is a community effort, but you have to put money where our mouth is, because intervention takes resources . . . how much are we investing in people?”

The Solano County Board of Supervisors briefly addressed the homeless issue during its budget session last week. Supervisors discussed how to spend county money on nonprofits that help the poor and homeless.

“We keep talking about this homeless problem,” Supervisor Jim Spering said. “We really haven’t done a very good job coming up with an inventory and what that is and how many want assistance . . . we seem to be throwing money at something where we’re not quite sure what the problem is and where we can be the most effective.”

He believes the county needs to do something about the homeless problem, but it needs better data to make good decisions, he said.

Meanwhile, the Tobies are making plans for the future.

“We’ll be able to afford a good apartment,” Monisha Tobie said.

And maybe they can afford to rent a house, as they truly desire. Then Solano County will have one less homeless family among its statistics.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Discussion | 15 comments

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  • Jose MadreJune 29, 2014 - 6:10 am

    I think homeless spikes are a start. It's the same idea places use to keep birds off of structures and pooping everywhere. Large cities have started using them in places to keep the homeless from laying down at night, and peeing everywhere. I now it sounds harsh, but if it is a deterrent to one homeless bloke who uses it as a springboard to go seek shelter somewhere else, maybe that somewhere else is a shelter that provides more than a cot but tools for life that can help them not be homeless. And it will help with the urine smell.

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  • JennyJune 29, 2014 - 5:15 pm

    I can't believe this...homeless spikes! There are many public places...the community center was one of them...that kept their bathroom doors locked to keep the homeless from using them. Where are they suppose to go? It is a desperate situation to be out somewhere and not have a restroom available. If these people have no place to "go" to relieve themselves what do you expect them to do? Destitute people who have the sense to apply for food stamps (many have psychiatric problems and can't figure it out) cannot buy toilet paper with the debit card they are given...this is why t.p. goes missing a lot of times in public bathrooms...it is a case of absolute desperation. More public bathrooms would be a good thing...even portapotties...many parks do not have either. I have heard of pathetic elderly homeless being harassed by rock throwing teens for sport...but spikes...wow...that is a new one!

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  • JeffJune 29, 2014 - 6:09 pm

    You are correct Jenny, that is exactly part of the problem. That the facilities are closed that is. But it is also a medical problem as you observed. Now I want to add something for Jose complaining about clean places.... Have you ever wondered why so many places (Fast food etc) have all the trash flying around? I doubt that comes from homeless people who can't afford a car. I would say that comes from lazy people who can't get out of their car to toss their stuff into the next garbage bin. If I recall correctly, littering comes with a $1000 fine. I wonder how often that's been issued. I am pretty sure the same is true for all the plastic bags at the grocery stores.

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  • 2realJune 29, 2014 - 6:50 am

    Theyll continue to come as long as bertani feeds them."putting criminals first"

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  • janetJune 29, 2014 - 9:41 am

    Up to 5,000 homeless each night... and you want them in the shelters.. right there shows ignorance... Mission Solano kicks them out for drug use.. then allows them back in! The family in this article must be blessed with family in the area or very good friends.. because the price of daycare would eat up anything she would make at a restaurant... and then some. I would say the biggest portion of the homeless here in Solano County are quite content with the life they are leading. They will never go into shelters for one reason or the other, and they do consider the streets as their home, so in reality they are not homeless. I for one do not want my tax dollars spent using our police department as a shovel moving the so called homeless from one place to another.. what a waste of time and money. Apparently all the money put into Mission Solano and their great big bldg on Beck had very little impact for this county, I would love to have an accounting of what is taking place there. A bed for the night is one thing, but where do you think everyone is peeing when they have to leave these shelters early in the mornings and not return til late in the afternoon? Yes there are the homeless that need and want intervention.. and there are many roadblocks in their way... the county and other governmental agencies know what these are... but they continue to put blinders on as to lasting remedies.

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  • P.J.June 29, 2014 - 10:51 am

    The homeless are homeless because they would rather be able to use their drugs than have a stable life. They actually don't want "help". A friend recently visited and walked out into the marsh area from the boat ramp in Suisun. He used to go fishing there. He was shocked when he came upon a camp. How many, many people live out there? Janet states that government agencies are putting blinders on as to the real remedies....if she knows what the real remedies are I wish she'd let the agencies know!

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  • janetJune 29, 2014 - 12:06 pm

    PJ... think about this for a minute... everyday the police are called out to to investigate crimes committed in several different neighborhoods in Fairfield.. over and over... I would bet these residents are housing subsidized, on food stamps, and other than county welfare get their money from drug dealing.... Now don't ya think we are throwing money in the wrong direction! Just out of curiosity, how many times has the police been out to the homeless camp for any crime? I would bet none.... but only to try and move em on! Now of course this little rant is not curing the problem of hardships of many who truly want and deserve help... but it is food for thought. As I stated earlier... for most that we consider homeless.... they do NOT consider themselves homeless! So that leaves the county with I would guess a few, whether it be families, singles, elderly, disabled people actually looking for a life changing hand up. This is the few that the discussions should be about.. the peeing problem is another discussion.

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  • janetJune 29, 2014 - 12:27 pm

    Another rant.... articles states the county has between 4-5,000 homeless on any given night... goes on in the article to state the county as sufficient resources to help them... who are they trying to fool... we do not have 4-5,000 beds available on any given night! I would estimate anywhere between 100-150 maybe! So that leaves out quite a few that will be pushed on, citation receiving, and peeing in your back yards! So in order to find a solution we actually have to really look at the problem... be honest with it....And believe me there are people that are truly homeless and wanting shelter... but yet there are many beds empty at our county shelters... here lies our first quest... Why?

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  • JeffJune 29, 2014 - 5:45 pm

    Janet, can you list all the places that have free and available shelters? Just like to know where they are.... And I mean proper shelters with some privacy and not some emergency shelter that houses 3000 people because of an earthquake. Those are called emergency shelters for a reason but they are not there to support people long term.

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  • BeeJune 29, 2014 - 12:31 pm

    Sperring is full of it. "We really haven’t done a very good job coming up with an inventory and what that is and how many want assistance . . . we seem to be throwing money at something where we’re not quite sure what the problem is and where we can be the most effective.” So you don'y understand what homelessness is? You are throwing money at it?" The other day it was reported that county misspent 700K in collaboration with the Community Action Forum which is not a service provider. I think it's pretty clear what the problem is: you lack efficiency and oversight, and then muddy up the problem by saying you don't understand? You understand all to well Supervisor Sperring but unless it translates into diamonds for you you don't give a damn. Wait till you get your ass kicked out of office in November. That will make you comprehend.

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  • JeffJune 29, 2014 - 5:36 pm

    I would agree. It seems someone doesn't have a clue. Let me make this example based on the article and some complains or let's call it observations. Assume there 4000 homeless number is correct. Where are facilities to shower 4000 people every day in the county or for that matter, find public restrooms? If 4000 people don't have a place to cook, where are places to serve one warm meal to them every day? Even if they bring the food they get with Food Stamps? Where can it be prepared? Where are laundry facilities for 4000 people to keep their clothing looking neat that don't require money? Why are the water fountains in Linear Park broken since ever? (We have a drought, but luckily the sprinklers are so badly maintained that the bird population gets plenty) It's nearly 100 outside and no access to free water (Witt park and others would have it) I am (in this comment) not even talking shelter, just plain services everyone needs every day. Once the basics are taken care off, think about ways to get the people back to work. There are hardly good options finding something steady upon which to build a future. Keep in mind, those people have no money and need to wait at least 2 weeks for a pay check to come. 2 weeks can be awfully long, if next to a job, you need to hunt for daily necessities when for example the Mission is closed when you get off work. Never mind that you still sleep under a bridge. Once the 2 weeks are over and the first check gets in your hands and you really try hard, you will have to spend almost all of that money just so you can keep the job. Then, when you are just about to pull yourself out of the dumpster, you can be sure, something else goes wrong or gets stolen or you try to rent a place with bad credit history and certainly no money for any kind of security deposit. Oh and never mind that of course there are no public places to even charge a cell phone. At the bus transfer station you can charge the electrical car for free, but you better don't need a cell phone, cause that would need to stay dead. You can't do that at Health and Human Services either. I guess some officials are in some kind of la-la land.

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  • MikeJune 29, 2014 - 8:32 pm

    Most employers pay with a check. Try cashing a payroll check without identification, another hurdle for struggling folks to deal with. Jeff, you make some insightful thoughts and those are just the ones that come to mind. I'm sure there are many more. A flowchart would be very lengthy, I'm sure.

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  • BeeJune 29, 2014 - 12:34 pm

    Sperring is full of it. Under his watch he wasted 700K on an agency run by one of his cronies without oversight or supervision and he has the audacity to say he doesn't understand what the real problem is? You are the real problem Sperring and you need your ass kicked out of office soon. You are a liar, at best.

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  • JeffJune 29, 2014 - 5:09 pm

    It's one thing when a homeless person can't behave. It's something entirely different, if there is no shelter available or work to pay for it. That's the core of the problem. If HUD weren't booked out and every other option is taken, where should they find shelter they can pay for? Most people that work in all the great stores and outlets are one or two pay checks away from being homeless. Just look at the "rooms for rent" section. That's usually around $500. If you only get a temp job and you have additional expenses to say on the job (Bus, Laundry, Clothing, Safety gear, Food Utilities, etc) that's a lot of money to front to get a job in the first place. Bus voucher to even get a job site might be an option Solano County could offer. There will always be people for any number of reasons urinating where they shouldn't, but if that's the focus here, people missing the point altogether. Mission Solano is kicking people off the premises during the day. There are no facilities to help with a job search. For most you need Internet. On just Food Stamps you can't legally purchase non-food items (including toilet paper and tooth paste), thus people are almost "forced" to ask for "change". You can't even do the Food Stamp interview in person. You have to call in. The system is rotten from the ground up. The "data" someone in the article needs is useless, if the ground work isn't laid out. Seems to me the people in charge should do a flow chart. Subject "How do I get a job, when I have no cash?" Just being able to take a shower to show up clean and neat for an interview is a challenge. Just try that, if you don't have a home and no money. Or even if you have a job and you want to take a shower after work? Where exactly? If there are about 4000 homeless and only 10% want a place, is the county able to help out with 400 apartments? Can that be sustained until people find a job? How will people get by during the transition? Its not like crowed funding for some start-up. Even for a retail job, people need some grooming, neat clothing, 3 meals a day, etc. and they need to be able to get to the job site. You can't walk there one hour in our current heat. Either this article has been cut for space reasons or the real problems of getting people without money back on track has been missed entirely.

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  • JeffJune 29, 2014 - 6:01 pm

    "Solano County has resources to help anyone who is tired of being chronically homeless, Marlette said. The community faces the issue of how to unify these resources, he said" I would really like to know what and where those resources are. Its always bad to make such statements and leaving the "solution" hanging. I am pretty sure that if asked for a comprehensive list, such a thing doesn't exist or one is given the run-a-round "here are some numbers to call, good luck".

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