Coming Together to Focus on Prevention
Cities across the United States are reporting record numbers of those experiencing homelessness in their community. Women and children, as well as youth ages 18-24, are among the growing population of those who are experiencing homelessness. There are many factors contributing to homelessness. Financial, lack of employment, illness, mental health issues and substance abuse are just some of the factors that can lead people to find themselves homeless: Generally there are two responses to those experiencing homelessness; contempt or compassion. Many communities have adapted a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude towards those who are experiencing homelessness. Others have established proactive strategies to effectively engage those found on the streets and provide a plan to help those experiencing homelessness receive the services they need. I encourage you to attend trainings that are offered by the County Focus on Prevention.
Recently HUD released the Stanislaus County 2016 Point in Time survey for the homeless count. According to the results, Stanislaus County had 1,661 experiencing homelessness and 1,221 of those were in Modesto. This was an increase of 238. Whether this increase is due to a more effective count or homelessness is on the increase, we still have work as a community to help address these issues. Focus on Prevention was launched 2 years ago, bringing an alignment of services and collaboration to our community. Focus on Prevention has brought together multiple sectors including government, nonprofit, media, arts and entertainment, faith-based, businesses, and several others for the purposes of reducing and preventing homelessness. Three other initiatives are also planned. Focus on Prevention has been educating the general public and the multiple sectors about those experiencing homelessness.
In my experience, there are different categories of those experiencing homelessness; those who are seeking services and are actively engaged in their success, those who may not be able to seek the services they need due to behavioral health issues and other personal reasons, and those who refuse services. As our community works to address all of these groups, many issues are occurring that affects our businesses and the people who work and play in downtown.
The following are some general guidelines in making a difference whether you are a business or individual person. Remember these folks have a name and a backstory. We may not agree with their behavior, but they still deserve dignity and respect. Some may not be able to control their behavior due to serious mental health issues.
When engaging those you encounter, your safety is primary. Please do not give anyone money and don’t provide food. Although there may be an apparent need, refer them to services such as the Salvation Army or the Modesto Gospel Mission. Partner with other businesses to work alongside the Downtown Improvement District and DOMO. There is a concerted effort to bring change to the downtown. If you encounter someone who is aggressive and they won’t leave, you can always contact law enforcement. There is a great resource within the county called the Homelessness Engagement Team. You can contact them at 209.543.5140 for help. It is important to identify the people you may be experiencing issues with at your business so it can be communicated to the authorities and those who engage those experiencing homelessness on a regular basis. Many reasons why we don’t know how to respond is a lack of knowledge and recognizing the differences between vagrants and those experiencing homelessness. I encourage you to attend trainings that are offered by the County Focus on Prevention.
The issues we all face in our community regarding vagrancy and homelessness don’t have a single solution, but through collaboration and communication we can do much more together than we can do apart.
by Kevin Carroll
Executive Director, Modesto Gospel Mission