The City of Antioch requested to take advantage of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s homeless trailer program in a decision made by the council this week.
Just one day before the deadline, officials met in a special meeting Tuesday, Jan. 28, to approve the application that would request three to five of Newsom’s 100 trailers intended to house homeless residents throughout the state. If Antioch qualifies, it will be able to house three to five individuals per trailer. City council documents originally indicated 10 people would live in a trailer — a figure that was later corrected during the council meeting.
“My friend has been helping a lady with her three kids who have been living in their car,” said Antioch Mayor Sean Wright. “This (program) will give us the opportunity to house a few small families that right now are living in their cars.”
While the turnaround time on the application remains unconfirmed, advocates and officials have considered a plot of land on Wilbur Avenue owned by Joe Bosman, who has previously offered shelter to homeless individuals there.
Nichole Gardner, homeless advocate and founder of nonprofit organization Facing Homelessness in Antioch, said Bosman’s property is out of sight from the public and would present the ideal placement for the trailers, should Antioch’s application be approved.
“He has RVs on his property that homeless people rent out, and he has hookups already,” said Gardner, who noted Bosman might need to do some further work to ensure he’s up to code if selected. “I think that’s the best route to go, and I think the city is thinking of him for these trailers. Maybe the city will pay him rent ... It’s just a start and would show that Antioch is doing something about homelessness.”
However, Bosman said he presumed the city has another option in mind, noting that he had not heard from Antioch City Manager Ron Bernal as of press time.
"In fact, Code Enforcement is asking me to reinspect my land to further evict my last five tenants in RVs," Bosman wrote in an email to the press Feb. 5. "These tenants have no where to go but on the street. Several tenants have left due to city pressure. I explained to the city council that I would evict those remaining if they insisted last November at a council meeting. The council deferred action, and this caused my 60-day notice to expire. I will follow the law, but I'm caught in the middle, and no direction is apparent from the city. It's anything but transparent, and it's in the city's court now, and they do not communicate with me other than issuing me notice of obscure violations. I suppose it's a form of harassment. The director of Community Development personally inspects the property for violations."
In terms of who would occupy the trailers, Gardner said she supported a screening process.
“There are many different faces to homelessness,” she said. “This is going to be transitional housing; it is not going to be permanent. Yes, you see people with drug issues and some people who don’t actually want to get off the streets. But we also have people out there who are wanting to better their lives. This trailer program would be targeting families and people who have been making moves or are willing to make moves in order to become better citizens and Antioch residents who can contribute to society.”
Wright echoed the sentiment that homelessness can look differently than what most people think, noting Antioch’s all-star student, fundraising activist, musician, homecoming king and later UC Berkeley scholarship recipient, Sage Bennett, was someone who spent his youth living in a car with his family.
“Through the application process, what we’re looking to help is families with children — moms with kids or young people with nowhere to go,” said Wright.
Neighboring cities have weighed in on whether they would consider similar measures.
“The homeless population in Antioch is dramatically larger than that in Oakley,” said Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick. “ ... Based on the size of our homeless population and the desperate need in other regions of the state, I don’t see Oakley applying for trailers.”
While homeless advocates and some city officials alike have shown support for the trailer application, social media comments on recent publications announcing the Antioch effort have largely shown disapproval.
“Why do we keep allowing this?” wrote Candice Lynn Rowlett in a public Facebook comment. “How are we ever going to clean up if this doesn’t stop? You don’t see this in (surrounding) areas, and we shouldn’t have to deal with it here. Enough handing out stuff all over A Street. That discourages new businesses from coming in and intimidates people and keeps them from coming here. At some point when, is another town going to take over?”
Gardner, who has had a presence among the homeless community through her nonprofit work and has been working with public officials to address the crisis, said there will always be naysayers.
“You don’t want to see them on the streets or in front of businesses, but if we’re trying to put them in a shelter out of view from the public, people complain,” she said. “They complain about human feces but then reject the idea of portable toilets. There will always be people who have something to say ... But God is working in the City of Antioch and is shedding light on his poor. At the end of the day, His people will be taken care of.”
This is a continuing story. Check back for updates.