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Mapping a plan to combat homelessness

All of the 19 cities in Contra Costa County have unique attributes that set their downtowns apart from one another.

Concord has Todos Santos Plaza; Pleasant Hill has Crescent Drive. Clayton has Concerts in the Grove. Martinez has a historic and quaint downtown adjacent to the waterfront with a cluster of government buildings that loom above all others.

Since Contra Costa became a county, Martinez has been the county seat, and host to all that designation brings. It includes the Board of Supervisors, Sheriff, District Attorney, Superior Courts, County hospital and welfare services.

This brings employees, attorneys, jurors, defendants and the general public from all over the East Bay into downtown Martinez. It also brings in those released from jail, released mentally ill patients, and individuals seeking welfare services and support.

This has created a huge challenge for the Martinez Police Department, Public Works and the businesses in the downtown.

But about 12 years ago, a gentleman by the name of Doug Stewart appeared on the scene and offered his help to the city in stemming our problem of homelessness.

Doug had started to seek out solutions to the homeless issues in Pacheco, as a member of the Pacheco Municipal Advisory Council, by going out at night and finding the homeless in his community and getting them help.

He would provide blankets, socks, personal hygiene kits and rides to BART or a bus. Thus was born the Pacheco Homeless Outreach.

Doug expanded the operation into Martinez and we immediately saw the benefit. To help defray costs, the city granted Doug a small amount of money which eventually turned into a budget line item of $30,000 per year. The organization became Pacheco/Martinez Homeless Outreach.

Soon, the communities of Richmond and Concord saw the good work that Doug and his volunteer crew was accomplishing and they contracted for his services. The organization then became Contra Costa Homeless Outreach.

For years, they went out almost every night of the week seeking out the homeless and getting them what they needed – clean and dry socks, a blanket, a ride to a shelter.

For a multitude of reasons, including financial and personal, Doug decided to retire from this line of work and shut the organization down. All operations ceased June 30, leaving a gaping hole in homeless services in Contra Costa County.

As a result, I recently met with Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal, City Manager Brad Kilger, Bill Schilz and Doug. We wanted to hear from Doug and Bill what we would expect to find in the Martinez homeless community – where the encampments are, who are the regulars he deals with, what challenges they had, and what Doug and Bill thought needed to be done.

Out of that meeting we have mapped some initial strategy on how to move forward, and to not only continue, but to improve, the services that Contra Costa Homeless Outreach has been providing the homeless, and therefore, the entire Martinez community.

And since homelessness is not just a Martinez problem, we will be contacting other cities to see if they will have an interest in working with us.

Through the generosity of Tesoro and a grant of $90,000 over three years, combined with the money already allocated in the Police Department, we will be able to get started.

Rob Schroder is the mayor of the City of Martinez. Email him at rschroder@cityofmartinez.org.

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