First District Hosts Faith-Based Roundtable on Homelessness
Our office had a wonderful & productive roundtable discussion last week with faith-based leaders, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Proactive Enforcement (HOPE) team and San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health on assisting the homeless in our community.
“There are no easy solutions,” said HOPE team Deputy Mike Jones. “We must recognize that there is a fine line between homelessness as a social issue and a criminal issue.”
In 2020, California ranked No. 1 in America for homelessness, with 134,000 unhoused individuals. Of this number, 3,125 resided in San Bernardino County, with 40 percent living in San Bernardino and 20 percent in Victorville.
The HOPE team was established by Sheriff John McMahon in 2014. Newly appointed Sheriff Shannon Dicus is building on the program with the expansion of community services for justice-involved individuals.
“A lot of our homeless have criminal pasts, so we are trying to build bridges with programs for substance abuse and life skills, but it’s all voluntary,” said Jones.
During the past year, the HOPE team made contact with 670 homeless individuals in the High Desert. This included 10 families and 36 veterans. Of the 670 homeless individuals, 309 were chronically homeless, 273 had substance abuse problems, 275 had mental health issues, and 82 had physical issues.
“The most recent increases in homelessness were in the senior population and millennials,” said Jones. “Housing costs are certainly impacting the senior population. In San Bernardino County, the average rent is $1,200, and seniors only receive $900 a month on Social Security. We run into a lot of seniors who are homeless because they don’t want to be a burden or tell their families.”
Deputy Jones said the millennial homeless population has increased due to the decriminalization of marijuana, which is attracting residents from other states. “When we are out on the streets, there aren’t many people we come across who aren’t addicted to drugs or using marijuana,” he said.
Out of the 670 homeless contacted in the High Desert last year, Jones said that 47 individuals and 7 families were housed, 101 individuals were assisted and 334 were referred to assistance.
“It takes about 75 contacts before someone will seek help,” said Jones. “We could house a lot more people if there were enough beds. We only have about 340 shelter beds, county-wide.”
The HOPE Team partners with county agencies, service providers and Veterans Affairs to assist the homeless community. The County’s Department of Behavioral Health can assist the homeless with mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment and employment/SSI assistance. They can also assist referred residents with housing through Housing Authority vouchers and Mental Health Services Act Housing.
The Desert Haven project in Victorville, which opened at the former Queens Motel in September, offers 26 units for several mentally ill homeless residents and 5 units for homeless individuals with medical disabilities.
Jones said that faith-based groups can assist the homeless by avoiding food deliveries and “getting them out of their element” and over to local homeless assistance programs.
“If I sit at home and the pizza guy comes every day, why would I leave?” he said.
The HOPE team's motto, "Positive Change Not Spare Change," encourages the community to avoid giving money to panhandlers, which usually contributes to a drug or alcohol addiction. Additionally, roughly 65 percent of panhandlers are not homeless. Donations are better spent on legitimate homeless service providers, who can channel your donation toward real solutions.
Jones said that there is a great need for local landlords who can provide housing for homeless individuals. Payment to the landlords is arranged through DBH and paid by US Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers. DBH assists with determining disability eligibility, applications for housing, document readiness, and rent payment.
The next faith-based roundtable meeting will take place in January 2022. Church leaders interested in joining the discussion are encouraged to call our office at (760) 995-8100.