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Ventura Chamber of Commerce

CALL TO ACTION: Emergency Shelter Overlay District

Join the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and support the proposed zoning overlay.  We need your support this Monday, March 20 at the City Council Meeting at 6:00 pm.

This past November the Ventura Chamber of Commerce 25-member Board of Directors met for its annual goal setting retreat.  During this meeting it was again confirmed that one of the areas of focus is working with the City, County, faith-based community and other stakeholders on the issue of the homelessness.  The Chamber has actively engaged on this issue over the past 18 months and currently the Chamber CEO and several Board Members serve on the City’s Homelessness Stakeholders group and has met regularly over the past 8 months to help develop solutions.

Although over the past 5 years the actual number of homeless individuals in our community has been reduced by half, we still have roughly 300 chronically homeless people.  The Ventura City Council provided bold leadership back in 2011 by implementing the Safe and Clean Public Places Initiative, which aided in the reduction of the homeless from an all-time high of 701.  Council now finds themselves in a similar position as they consider implementing an overlay zone in our industrial areas that would allow day services and emergency shelter to exist in the same facility, something that is currently not allowed anywhere in our city.

No specific site has been identified and no specific provider has engaged to open a facility, this is simply the first step in the process to allow these types of services to exist.

But this is an important first step – to create zoning that would allow a shelter with additional supportive services and provide options for the variety of issues that challenge our homeless community.  Here are a few of the issues:

  • Individuals who are engaged in quality of life reduction behaviors, including sleeping in public, loitering, and storing their possessions in public, are not held accountable by the judicial system nor are they held in jail because of a public defender defense called “necessity”
  • The “necessity” defense is based on the notion that every human being needs to be somewhere, and if they are homeless that means they generally need to be in public places because it’s illegal to trespass onto private properties
  • When a police officer asks someone to move away from private property and the individual asks the question “where am I supposed to go?” if a police officer has to answer “I don’t know but you can’t stay here” that is not an acceptable response according to the judicial system, therefore the individual is not held accountable
  • Alternatively, if a police officer tells someone that they cannot be in a public space but there is a bed or a service available at another location and that person refuses that bed then the “necessity” defense is no longer valid because there was a sheltering option
  • The city of Ventura, not unlike any other city grappling with this issue, will never find the “perfect” location for a crisis service facility, however a responsible operator with an approved conditional use permit and sensible rules and regulations can and will deliver a program whose impact on any neighborhood is mitigated
  • A responsible operator is an operator that understands the possibility that their clients may have a neighborhood impact, and has a security plan that will result in the neighborhood knowing that there will be eyes and ears on the clients
  • In addition, a responsible operator will reduce or eliminate services to any individual who engages in unlawful or illegal behavior

The Ventura Chamber engaged in this issue in direct response to concerns from our members in the business community whose staff and customers were impacted by the issue of homelessness.  This issue affects us all, and therefore the solution must involve us all.  Please help be part of the solution.

I encourage you to support the work of the Homelessness Stakeholders Committee and share your thoughts with the City Council by either writing a letter, sending an email or attending in person and speaking on behalf of the issue this coming Monday evening, March 20 at the City Council Meeting at 6pm.

Please respond to Stephanie Caldwell at the Ventura Chamber of Commerce if you are able to join us Monday, March 20 and speak at the Council Hearing. 805.643.7222 or stephanie@ventura-chamber.org