FAIRFIELD — Solano County lacks leadership in finding solutions to the homeless situation and needs to take a more assertive role, according to a 2013-14 grand jury report released Tuesday.
The county is ultimately responsible for overseeing homeless programs, but has largely delegated these duties to the Community Action Partnership of Solano Joint Powers Authority, the report said. By doing so, it has removed itself from day-to-day responsibility and accountability for many of the programs, it said.
This joint powers authority was formed in 1999 under another name and has board members from the county, Fairfield, Suisun City, Vacaville, Dixon, Benicia and Vallejo.
The grand jury called on the county to appoint one employee to oversee homeless services. This position should have the authority to consolidate services and to be effective, the report said.
“The county needs to grasp the scope of the problem, to come up with creative and inventive responses to the homeless needs,” the report said.
Solano County Interim Health and Social Services Director Patrick Duterte on Tuesday agreed changes must be made.
“We’re taking it very seriously that this issue is really important and really needs to be restructured,” Duterte said.
Solano County officials knew the Community Action Partnership of Solano Joint Powers Authority had problems and had a 2013 report done on the situation by the nonprofit HomeBase, he said. That report was sent to all the cities.
“It was a wakeup call,” Duterte said.
The county and the cities will reconfigure the joint powers authority and get new commitments to make it run right, Duterte said.
The county in its new budget has money authorized to hire a homeless coordinator. This coordinator will work with the cities to address homelessness, Duterte said.
Solano County has a responsibility to address the homeless issue, Duterte said. But he noted that most of the homeless population is in cities, not the rural county. A joint powers authority with the cities is the best way to go, he said.
The county runs no homeless shelter. Fairfield’s Mission Solano shelter, for example, is run by a nonprofit group. Among the grand jury’s recommendations is having the county create homeless shelters and drop-in day centers.
Duterte didn’t rule out having such a community conversation, though he said having the county run a shelter might not be the best approach.
“If it was going to go that way, it’s something we’d do with our partner cities, rather than something we’d do on our own,” Duterte said.
The report calls on the county to establish care facilities for people with chronic mental health issues. Duterte noted the county contracts with nonprofit groups to provide such services.
Homeless issues have gotten a higher profile in Fairfield in recent months, in part because of situations such as the homeless living in parks. Police Chief Walt Tibbet in June said the city is working with the county and service providers about how to better address homelessness.
Among other things, the grand jury report criticizes the county for taking several years to obtain a mobile medical van with $145,000 in federal funds. The county recently bought a van used in the 2008 Hurricane Katrina disaster in Louisiana, but this van needs maintenance and improvements prior to being used to serve the needy, it said.
“The excessive amount of time which it has taken to get the mobile medical van is a classic example of talk of change versus timely action,” the grand jury report said. “For the amount of money that has been earmarked for this resource, having achieved such a limited outcome is disappointing.”
Duterte said the medical van should be on the road no later than August.
Solano County also has a mobile dental van. When the grand jury toured the van April 16, the van had been out of operation for six weeks because of malfunctioning hydraulics, with no return-to-service date, the report said.
The county stopped using the dental van because of a staffing issue, Duterte said. It has solved the problem and the dental van should soon be on the road again, he said.
It’s unclear how many homeless people live in Solano County. A county Health and Social Services report from 2005 put the number at 4,000 to 5,000 at any given time. But the 2013 HomeBase report said the county in 2013 had 1,329 people experiencing homelessness, with 889 unsheltered and 440 in shelters.
One reason for the difference might be how “homelessness” is defined. The 2005 report included people sleeping in cars, with relatives and on the couches of friends.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.