Roughly 200 people gathered at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater Nov. 13 for a panel on homelessness that included city officials, law enforcement officers and religious leaders.
The event, moderated by Rancho Community Church pastor Scott Treadway, gave officials a chance to talk about the homeless situation in Southwest Riverside County and what they were doing to try to help.
The event also gave the audience, mostly members of the faith-based community, the opportunity to be volunteer case managers, volunteer mentors or volunteer service providers to a homeless person.
A new organization to play a role
Brad Fieldhouse, founder of nonprofit City Net, talked about his organization’s role in helping the homeless.
City Net uses the coordination of community efforts and activities to help homeless people. It’s known for its work in Orange County, where it housed 400 people with a 92 percent retention rate, according to city of Temecula documents.
Fieldhouse said that part of the organization’s success was in its volunteers.
He said the Nov. 13 meeting was about forming a similar partnership with volunteers to impact homelessness in Southwest Riverside County the same way it had been in Orange County.
“Our interest is that we can significantly decrease the homeless population by organizing, getting together – everyone playing their role,” Fieldhouse said. “That’s not just a Pollyanish view. We see that happening in places all around.”
One week after the meeting, the Temecula City Council approved a $120,000 agreement with City Net for a one-year pilot program to try to reduce homelessness by 33 percent.
A city – and region – already embattled in the homeless issue
Robin Gilliland, the homeless outreach liaison for the city of Temecula, explained what the city has already done to try to help the homeless and the policy of “Responsible Compassion” which advocates for practices that help members of the homeless community reach self-sufficiency.
“We have to make sure that we’re empowering them and enabling them to become better people, and not allowing them to stay right where they are,” Gilliland said.
She said that in her work as the homeless liaison she realized that efforts couldn’t just be specific to the Temecula area, but had to be truly regional.
She said the city has been able to form a partnership with five other cities — Murrieta, Wildomar, Menifee, Lake Elsinore and Canyon Lake to look at and deal with homelessness in the same way.
She said that many cities have put up educational materials on their website about Responsible Compassion and the language on each of them is intended to be fairly consistent.
“It’s hugely important that we not all live in silos; that we all work in collaboration with our neighbors,” Gilliland said.
Law enforcement fosters relationships
Two law enforcement representatives, Riverside County sheriff’s Lt. Dean Spivacke and Murrieta Police Department Operations Division Captain Dennis Vrooman, both spoke on how their departments work to help members of the homeless community.
Spivacke said deputies who are part of the four person homeless outreach team for the city of Temecula aren’t looking to arrest members of the homeless community unless they are committing crimes.
He said that most of the time, members of the team are there because they are trying to establish relationships and help members of the homeless community get connected with resources offered by the city or nonprofits.
Establishing that trust can sometimes take weeks, he said.
“A lot of people in the homeless community simply don’t trust us,” he said. “I get that and we’re trying to change that philosophy. We want the homeless to understand that we’re not out there to take them to jail … That’s not our first goal. Our goal is to have that interaction and to move them on into other areas.”
Vrooman said The Murrieta Police Department also has a homeless outreach team dedicated to making contact with the homeless and figuring out what their needs are.
Spivacke said that based on point in time counts of the homeless that are done in late January of every year, it appears that the efforts of the city, law enforcement and nonprofits to reduce homelessness were actually making an impact.
“The numbers are going down,” Spivacke said. “They’re not going down as fast as we’d like, they’re not going down as significantly as we’d like, but they are beginning to decrease and the more organizations get involved, the quicker those numbers are going to go down.”
At the conclusion of the panel, Treadway, the Rancho Community Church pastor, talked about different ways the faith based community could get involved and help the homeless in conjunction with the city and Fieldhouse’s organization.
In the back of a packet was an application where people could volunteer their time to be mentors or case managers or simply just to provide services that could help a homeless person.
“We can distill the homeless problem to one person sitting across from us at Starbucks,” Treadway said. “A person that we love, a person that we know, a person that we build relationships (with), a person that will disappoint us, a person that will walk away from us, but we’ll keep calling, we’ll keep texting, we’ll keep trying to find that person. That’s the solution that we’re challenging the faith community to be involved with tonight.”
A training session for case managers and mentors was scheduled for Jan. 29 at Temecula City Hall.