Homelessness dominated the annual HBT Town Hall meeting held on March 14, 2019 at the Lake Park clubhouse.
Guest speaker mayor Erik Peterson said the City council is looking at an opportunity to open a homeless shelter, in partnership with a non-profit, with the shelter to be located most likely in an industrial building. Mr. Peterson was not able to offer more details, but told HBT members and other attendees to watch upcoming council meetings.
Once the city has a homeless shelter, police will be able to enforce the no-camping ordinance, he added.
Kelly Rodriguez, deputy police chief, and Cathy Lukehart, the city’s homeless outreach coordinator, were also kind enough to give HBT members an update on how the city handles homeless individuals.
The city’s outreach team includes two dedicated police officers and four outreach staff who can help residents deal with homeless individuals and find support services for those that want to get off the street.
Only ten percent of homeless want help, but if they do, “we can always help them,” Ms. Lukehart said. Help includes housing, food, detox facilities, etc. Most are chronically homeless, with alcohol and drug addictions, and mental illness, so it’s a tough job. But Ms. Lukehart noted that since 2015, the outreach team has gotten about 250 people off the street (although not all have stayed off the street). Last year, the team got about 74 people into shelters or homes. Many of the homeless live in cars. The last count found 219 homeless individuals in in HB, both in shelters and on the street. Updated numbers are coming, and will probably be higher, Ms. Lukehart said, because of a more ambitious counting process.
Residents are encouraged to use the MyHB app to contact the city about issues with homeless
Officers can arrest a homeless person if a law is broken, Ms. Rodriguez said, like drinking in a park or drug dealing. But the police will need your statement and possibly your testimony if a case is to be pursued. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the homeless will get a fine and time spent in jail for illegal behavior, deputy chief Rodriguez said. In troublesome cases, the city’s attorney’s office has a prosecutor who may be able to get restraining orders against homeless people, she added.
Mayor Peterson also touched on the non-toxic turf-management program that HBT, together with Non-Toxic HB, has been instrumental in implementing on a pilot basis in Central Park. Started in 2018, Peterson, said the non-toxic, healthy-turf management technique, which eliminates the use of glyphosate (Roundup), costs less and seems to work better. “The only complaint we hear is that it doesn’t smell good” when organic materials are used on turf, Mr. Peterson said. “The idea is, you improve the soil, so weeds can’t compete with the turf. … It’s been successful in the areas where we’ve done it.”
The mayor also expressed confidence that the city will prevail in defending against a state lawsuit over affordable housing. In a similar lawsuit brought by the Kennedy Commission, HB won a partial victory in a state appeals court. Parts of the Kennedy suit are still pending.