Every couple of years, it seems, Antioch officials seek to do something about the homeless problem, particularly along the riverfront and downtown area. Nothing much seems to change, however; but officials are once again looking into what can be done.
The latest effort was prompted by Rivertown resident Mary Dodson's rhetorical questions at the May 10 City Council meeting, in which she asked for help in dealing with Antioch's chronically homeless population.
Are the chronically homeless people entitled to engage in activities such as strewing their bodies and bicycles on the sidewalk, blocking the sidewalk so that we taxpayers must step around them to get by? she asked. Are they entitled to urinate, defecate, drink, do drugs, scream in public, trash the environment, leave bloody sanitary napkins in the park for all to see, steal grocery carts, consorting, as evidenced by their underclothes scattered around?
We taxpayers would be arrested in a heartbeat if we engaged in these activities. What kind of message does this permissiveness give to juveniles and/or to those people already at risk?
Councilman Brian Kalinowski asked that the homeless issue be placed on the agenda of an upcoming council meeting.
I know it comes up time and time again, he said. I know we dealt with this issue at City Park and it moved. Some of the issues surrounding the Brown Bag facility near the shopping center have been addressed. But I know that those are issues ongoing. I do know that we were working with the Bay Area Rescue Mission in trying to find a site to assist those homeless folks who need those resources.
But (let's see) if we can touch on what we can do to address that. If that's using the county's Mental Health Commission to be a part of that, clearly some of that is in play here, or some of the homeless organizations to assist us in that. I think that's something that we need to start addressing.
Councilman Arne Simon thanked Dodson for raising the issue. It was a very impassioned speech, and I think a lot of us feel the same, he said. The courts have tied our hands on a number of issues dealing with loitering. It made it very difficult for cities to deal with this. It is a problem, and I get complaints as well from folks in the downtown and other areas, such as the Fulton Shipyard.
Mayor Don Freitas said he's particularly concerned about the panhandlers at the end of the Highway 4 off-ramps at Somersville Road and A Street. It's a very dangerous situation, he said.
He is also concerned about the vendors selling ice cream or fruit on street corners.
Simonsen said the County Health Department is in charge of enforcing vendors illegally selling produce by the side of the road, but that department does little enforcement other than a once-a-month inspection of the area.
City Manager Jim Jakel said he would be consulting with city staff to see what's currently being done to deal with the problems.
There's a number of issues out there, he said. Every summer as the weather improves, the situation becomes much more difficult in the downtown. We annually revisit the approach we take with these kinds of issues each summer.
There is a core group of about 50 homeless people in the Antioch area, according to Antioch Police Sgt. Mitch Schwitters. Antioch operates one shelter, which sets limits on the length of stay and the number of people it can take in, giving priority to women and those with mental or physical disabilities.
There's no easy answer to the transient, homeless population, Schwitters said in an interview. Most of the stuff that they are involved in is more of a petty crime, maybe possession of alcohol, urinating in public, loitering, panhandling.
Most aren't involved in violent crime. It's more of a nuisance thing. Some are in public view, which is not received well. We have to learn how to work with them. We can't make them disappear or go away immediately.