The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Contra Costa County Supervisor Diane Burgis and co-written by Lavonna Martin director of Contra Costa Health Services’ Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services.
As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, many of us are preparing our homes for the holidays. It’s a time to reconnect with family and friends, to reflect on the year behind us, and to give thanks. It’s also a time when we write checks for charity, donate to canned food drives, and give extra volunteer time to our favorite charities. There are many ways to help right now. Whether it’s the Brentwood Community Chest, Friends of Oakley, Meals on Wheels, or the Village Community Resource Center, East county has a long and proud tradition of volunteerism, supporting those in need, and particularly for generosity during the holidays.
But this month we can do more, if we work together.
This November, during National Homelessness Awareness Month, Contra Costa cities are coming together to make a powerful statement about our resolve to end homelessness in our county, and to secure millions of dollars from a state grant to help shelter our neighbors in need.
We are asking every city council in East county and across all of Contra Costa to step up this month and become a regional partner in this effort by declaring a local shelter crisis.
Every one of our cities is impacted by this housing crisis, even those with small numbers of unsheltered residents. If even one person lacks shelter because they cannot afford housing, there is a crisis. No amount of homelessness is an acceptable amount.
This simple resolution, which requires no expense or additional commitment from the adopting city, does more than show solidarity. It enables local governments to respond to and prevent homelessness. The Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) allocates $7.196 million in one-time funding to Contra Costa to cover anything from additional street outreach and homeless youth prevention programs to adding new warming centers and rental assistance for families.
About 2,300 Contra Costa residents spend any given night in shelters or living on the street, according to the annual point-in-time counts organized by Contra Costa Health Services’ Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services. If you live in East county, or anywhere in Contra Costa, evidence of our local housing emergency surrounds you, from the persons at the freeway exits in our urban centers to the tents along our creeks and beneath our suburban freeway overpasses.
In East Contra Costa, hundreds more seniors, veterans, families and children are enduring homelessness compared to just a few years ago. Fueled by the last recession and the stratospheric cost of housing, there has been an 81% increase in the number of unsheltered individuals in East Contra Costa County since 2015 and funding for housing and other services have not kept pace.
HEAP will help expand our county’s capacity to connect residents who are experiencing homelessness. Our most vulnerable community members, people who have lost their housing or who are on the brink of losing it, deserve every available resource and, as community leaders, we have a moral obligation to work for them. We feel it is important that we send the right message to our community, that we will be there when they are in need, and we are working to make sure we take advantage of every opportunity available to help our most vulnerable residents.
It’s been gratifying to see so many of our cities have stepped up in recent weeks. So far, the cities and towns joining the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors in passing shelter crisis declarations include Antioch, Martinez, San Pablo, Richmond, Pittsburg, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill.
Lafayette, Oakley, Concord, Orinda, and San Ramon councils will consider the matter this month.
So please, if you don’t see your city on the list, please ask your council – why not?
Diane Burgis & Lavonna Martin
Diane Burgis is the Contra Costa County Supervisor representing District III, which includes Antioch, Bethel Island, Blackhawk, Brentwood, Byron, Diablo, Discovery Bay, Knightsen and Oakley.
Lavonna Martin is the director of Contra Costa Health Services’ Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services.