The Brentwood City Council faces increasing pressure from homeless advocates and county officials to declare a homeless crisis within the city boundaries to ensure city residents are eligible to receive state aid anticipated to be allocated to the county to address the problem.
The formal declaration is required by the state in all jurisdictions where potential funding will be expended.
Some months ago, the council opted not to adopt the resolution, instead directing City Manager Gus Vina to prepare a letter of support for the county and any cities seeking funds.
That decision, in part, came as one homeless count estimated Brentwood’s 2018 homeless population at 35, a number councilmembers didn’t perceive as a crisis.
The move, however, has drawn the ire of the county’s homeless advocates, who say that Brentwood residents in need could benefit from funding.
It’s expected that the county’s Continuum of Care – an agency that gathers and analyzes data to better understand the conditions of those experiencing homelessness and identify the best means for providing programs – will receive an estimated $7,196,770 from the state and will then allocate funds to cities requesting assistance. East County is expected to receive about $2.9 million.
All but two Contra Costa communities – Brentwood and Clayton – have already adopted or are expected to adopt the homeless crisis declaration.
“More and more families are on the brink of losing their homes; this is true throughout the county,” said Mariana Moore, director of Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa. “Brentwood is not exempt from this. So many folks are barely hanging on.”
Jaime Jenett, Contra Costa Continuum of Care planning and policy manager, said the number of people experiencing homelessness in Brentwood jumped 775 percent, from 4 to 35, from 2017 to 2018, according to one count.
“(The declaration) doesn’t commit anyone to do anything,” she said. “It just opens the door so funding could be spent in that jurisdiction.”
In initial discussions on the topic, Brentwood officials said the letter of support would verify the city’s support of the county’s effort to address the homeless problem, but they didn’t feel Brentwood’s current homeless population constituted a crisis.
In addition, city councilmembers noted that they’d rather see the city’s allocated funds go to a larger regional effort to locate homeless services in areas with greater problems and that would still be accessible by Brentwood residents – like the county’s eventual three family justice centers, located in the most-needed areas but open to everyone.
Other concerns focused on the possibility that the allocated funds will be diluted if several cities join the effort, as well as question of whether the city can sustain services after the one-time funds are used.
But at least one city councilmember, Karen Rarey, said her stance on certain aspects of the city’s decision has changed.
Rarey said she still believes several far East County municipalities should collaborate to design an area-wide solution, but she notes that city residents could benefit from rental or down-payment assistance, ensured by the formal declaration of a homeless crisis.
“If we do not declare a shelter crisis, then our residents are no longer able to apply for rental assistance,” she said.
It remains to be seen, however, if the political will exists to overturn the decision, which must be done by the end of the year.
Rarey said this week she’s indicated to Vina that she’d like the topic to be placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, but at least one other councilmember has to express the same desire for that request to be approved, Rarey said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, that had not occurred, Vina said.
Rarey’s only other option is to raise the topic at Tuesday’s meeting, which would likely force the council to schedule two special meetings before the end of the year to reverse its decision, she said.
“Unless somebody else has stepped up and said, ‘Yes, I think this is something we need to do,’ I don’t see it going any further,” she said.
Mayor Bob Taylor said he doesn’t envision the city will do anything more than the letter of support.
“We already sent a letter of support, and we vetted that pretty good,” he said. “ … At this point, I think we have made our resolve and stay in the same situation we are in.”
Homeless advocates, however, are steadfast in their assertion that the city needs to reverse its decision.
Kirsten Rigsby, director of the nonprofit Village Community Resource Center that offers educational, health and social services to underprivileged children and their families, said the center serves 115 elementary school children yearly, 80 percent of which are from Brentwood.
“Some of these children and their families are one paycheck away from being homeless,” she said.