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.