On September 29, the City of Brentwood held a virtual town hall on homelessness issues both in the city and around the county.
Prior to the meeting, there was some discrepancy in the number of homeless within the city limits as the number was around 35, however, recently, the county had been stating the figure was 80–the difference was due to methodology.
During the nearly 90-minute presentation, it was confirmed that the homeless count in Brentwood was at 80 per the 2020 Contra Costa County Annual Point in Time Report taken in January.
This count was based on new federal methodology that included estimates based on certain sleep settings. For example, of the 80 counted in Brentwood, County staff confirmed half were counted from more than 20 vehicles (cars, vans, RV’s) that appeared to be serving unsheltered residents, some of whom reside here during the night and then go to work during the day. This would be the “technical” count according to federal methodologies.
Another count mentioned publicly is the “practical” count of those who are seen and heard regularly of approximately 35 individuals according to the Brentwood Police Department. Both counts are valid and represent different segments of the unsheltered in Brentwood, those seen and unseen.
City Manager Tim Ogden highlighted the Martin V. City of Boise (2018) court case in which the 9th Circuit Opinion ruled that criminalizing “sleeping, sitting, or lying in all public spaces when no alternative sleeping space is available, violate the Eight Amendment”.
Ogden called this a challenge and a concern because many ordinances that cities had on the West Coast were violating the Eight Amendment.
“The end result was if you don’t have sufficient shelter or bed space in your jurisdiction, you can’t enforce it on certain members of the population beyond that number,” stated Ogden. “We don’t have any shelters in Brentwood so this would be extremely difficult to enforce.”
Ogden highlighted that some of the issues with enforcement occur because homeless are in other jurisdictions within the city, such as on CALTRANS property, CHP, flood control or on regional trails, however he did say they have made local efforts which include:
- Police make regular contact with 38-individuals
- Most self-identify having mental health, and addictions
- All are provided County resources, encouraged often
- Work with C.O.R.E., M.H.E.T teams
- Meet with business and residential property owners
Chief Tom Hansen stated that before COVID-19 hit, they would contact every single one of their homeless and pleaded for them to get help.
“It gets cold, it gets rainy in the winter time, I don’t like to be driving home to my warm house thinking of portions of our population are out there unsheltered,” stated Hansen who shared they have designated a homeless liaison officer which he works half the work-week on homeless issues and outreach. “We take this very seriously and try and manage it well as a city. It’s a difficult to problem that every community faces.”
Sergeant Chris Peart said his role as the liaison was to engage with the community and reach out to the population to build rapport and comfort for when he comes around with resources.
“I am not out there to take enforcement necessarily, but more to engage and provide resources,” stated Peart who shared how they respond to calls for service. “The first thing I want to do is engage those community members and build that relationship. I want to figure out where they have been, figure out how I can help and offer services… I want to work with them, I don’t want to take the first opportunity for enforcement or to take action. I want to see if we can work with them and get them into a shelter or a job or whatever we can do to help them. But we do have a protocol to remove them from whatever area they are in.”
Peart says the protocol will be determined by the agency such as CALTRANS, CHP or private property and the first thing they look for is if there was trespassing—at that point, a notice to vacate would occur on that property giving them 72-hours to collect belongings and move along.
He further shared that if they can’t move property, police can store the property for them for up to 90-days to be claimed, if not, its disposed of. After that, a cleaning company will come to the area to clean it up.
Lavonna Martin, Director of Health, Housing & Homeless Services with Contra Costa County, shared data from the 2020 Point in Time Count on January 22.
- 2,277 unsheltered in Contra Costa County
- 707 persons in shelter
- 1,570 persons unsheltered
- 5% households were families.
“For the first time in recent history, and I have been here for 20-years now, there was a equal distribution of unsheltered people across the region,” stated Martin. “A third was in East Contra Costa County, a third in Central and a third in West. Brentwood represents about 5% of the total homeless population that were found that day.”
Martin said Brentwood has 80 homeless which was behind the City of Pittsburg who has 6% of the population but noted Brentwood was similar to other cities which include Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.
“68% of those found in Brentwood were found in sleep settings such as vehicles or RV’s,” stated Martin. “They were not found in traditional tents or sleeping on sidewalks or doorways.”
Marin highlighted how last year, the CORE team contacted 53 individuals and when asked why they were in Brentwood, 34% said they grew up here, 28% said friends and family were here while 28% were just passing through. CORE placed 16% of them into shelters, 40% of them spent at least one night in the warming center.
During the pandemic (March – August), 84 individuals were contacted with CORE connecting 78% (14 of 18 individuals who were placed). She spoke about the Project Roomkey Hotel Program for the county where 494 rooms are available and the utilization rate is 99% — 18 residents from Brentwood served to date. In Pittsburg, the Motel 6 has 166 rooms available for the program.
“We have reached capacity, stated Martin. “That is capacity for those that are at the highest risk.”
Martin further highlighted the need to maintain bed capacity and prevent the more than 600 people in the emergency hotel program from returning to the streets once the pandemic is done. When looking at the countywide emergency shelter that is available, Central County has 150 beds of traditional shelter that exists. In West County, its more than 300 beds to accommodate people.
“In East Contra Costa County, we have more than 200 individuals currently in a hotel and we only have 20 beds currently in the entire region,” explained Martin. “So when the Governor announced Homekey funding opportunity was available, it was really an opportunity of how we keep the beds and services that we desperately need in East County and in our community.”
Martin announced that with the success of the application for Project Homekey, that they now have the ability to create a permanent service hub in East County.
One of the questions asked is if the number of homeless behind Target was included in Brentwoods Point in Time county in which Martin responded “no” as those would be in the City of Antioch—Martin further noted that because they are using GIS tracking, wherever the teams are making contact with an individual, they drop a pin at that location.
Dr. Suzanne Tavano, Director of Behavioral Health Services for Contra Costa County, provided an overview of the mental health services available—in Brentwood specifically, they have contracted with Seneca to start a specialized day program for youth with special education needs.
Tavano highlighted the county has 3 mobile crisis teams (MCRT). When they are dispatched to a call, they try and keep it to mental health services, however, sometimes they have to request local law enforcement. They also have the Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET) along with he mobile response team.
“About 46% of our calls are coming from East County, for Brentwood in the past year, there were just under 40 calls and responses,” stated Tavano. “In terms of the Mobile Response Team, Brentwood comes in 6th place countywide. I am really happy to see that because this is youth oriented to go in and meet with the youth and their family and really assess the situation. Then determine the next best steps are and the goal really is to divert a 5150 and then follow up care.”
Q&A Portion of the session
How do we increase the number of beds from 20 to 200? Martin responded the County is making efforts to purchase the hotel in Pittsburg. If successful, it will add 174 rooms to the system of care and 800% increase in bed capacity in East County region.
Will the Council get the same presentation, some have said the 80 is wrong? Ogden stated this was a difference in methodology they were talking about.
What are the first steps that we (the public) can do to support the city in the programs the county is providing? Martin said there were many opportunities such as giving one’s time for the Point in Time Count. When there are opportunities to bring services or housing into a community, there are opportunities for the council members to bring them in. Martin suggested the next time affordable housing is an option in Brentwood, those who support those services/housing, need to speak up.
How do you see the city’s role versus the county role in purchasing hotels for homeless to address the needs in one city. How can we best partner to build the best approach to the current need? Martin explained that was a big question but said there is a role for them to work together—not every intervention or solution is right for a particular community. This includes community tolerance, makeup, how it works together. Its something the county can’t do on its own, the cities need to tell the county what they need. Martin stated there are some real constraints for the county which they need to spread across the county—that is why they have to partner with cities to ensure resources stay in their city. She called partnership is important to advance strategies that work in addressing homelessness. She called housing is the answer which is one of the things is a city function, not a county function.
Ogden highlighted that cities do not build housing, but they can educate the community that they are making it harder for developments to occur. The other item is cities do not have the funding sources, which is more limited for this, than the county. He called it challenging for both jurisdictions.
Chief Hansen asked of those at the Pittsburg hotel, how many were seeking treatment? Tavano replied approximately 25% were known which prompted them to bring more resources to the hotel to support people in the hotel.
What is the success rate of those who have been in the county programs, provided housing to self-supported housing? Neither Martin or Tavano had the data.
A note from the City of Brentwood
The Police Department responds and continues to monitor incidents, while respecting the rights of unsheltered individuals and ensuring public safety. When an officer encounters or is referred to someone who may need assistance, is willing to accept help, and/or fits certain criteria, a MHET officer will pair up with a Mental Health Clinician to link the individual to applicable services and provide follow-up checks.
- If you’re looking for resources, you may contact Det. Nunemaker at (925) 809-7761.
- To report non-emergency criminal behavior, please call the Police Department’s non-emergency number at (925) 809-7911.
- Concerns such as abandoned shopping carts, debris on private property, encampments, and other issues related to quality of life inside city limits can be quickly and easily be reported via Brentwood Connect 24/7, the mobile app and online work order platform that sends your request directly to City staff.