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Recent fires in the river bottom ignite for three main reasons: warming/cooking fires that get out of control, general proximity to fuel (i.e.,- dry brush), and spread due to environmental factors (i.e.,- wind), or arson. Due to Martin V Boise (see the FAQ: What is Martin v. Boise?) and the lack of available shelter beds for the unhoused in our community, we cannot remove or enforce "no camping" in public spaces because we have nowhere to relocate relocate those individuals safely.
Our response has been and must continue to be to develop creative solutions to help mitigate risk to those in the river bottoms and others in our community. For Example, we've built a recent partnership with the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation to educate those in the river bottoms on general fire safety, fire prevention, and how to keep warm without a fire.
The fact of the matter is, as long as individuals are in our river bottoms, there are going to be fires. With continued outreach and bringing an educational component to the source of the fires, we can help alleviate most of the issues.
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Every year the Ventura County and City do what is called a Point-in-Time count, where volunteers go out and canvas the City, asking a specific set of questions to homeless individuals they come across. This data is shared with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help secure funding. In 2019 this snapshot showed 555 homeless in Ventura, with 398 of those unsheltered. In 2020 our numbers slightly dropped to 531, with 386 unsheltered. The slight decrease can be attributed to increased outreach, diversion techniques, and shelter beds with staffing that helps connect individuals to housing. You can read more details in the report here.
Within the City, there are a wide variety of services offered to those in need.
Shelters: The Salvation Army has a small shelter for Veterans and adults, The Turning Points Foundation has a small shelter for adults with mental illness, and the City/County has a shelter called The ARCH that has 38 beds for adult men and 17 for adult women.
Food: Seven days-a-week, an individual can get food through Catholic Charities and Family to Family. Many Meals serves dinner on Wednesday evenings, and pantries are open throughout the week at varied locations, including Project Understanding on the east end the River Community Church on the west end.
Healthcare: There is medical care and supportive services offered Monday at the Whole Person Care Pod near River Haven, Tuesday at One Stop at Public Health, and Thursdays at the Whole Person Care Pod on the Avenue at the Sheriff’s Resource Center. The Salvation Army offers eye and dental services at their locations in Ventura and Oxnard.
Local non-profits support other needs like the Family Reconnection Program through Downtown Ventura Partners and Laundry Services through Laundry Love.
You can learn more about what each program does on the City’s Safe & Clean website.
Click here to download a card that lists all the services in Ventura. We encourage you to print it out and hand it to individuals in need instead of offering money.
Every day, whether it’s the City/County outreach worker, the Downtown Ambassadors, VPD Patrol Task Force, the City, or our social service partners. There are great minds throughout the City working on connections and trying to get individuals to accept help.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that enforcement of ordinances that prohibit sleeping or camping on public property against individuals is unconstitutional when those individuals do not have a meaningful alternative, such as a shelter space or a legal place to camp.
The 2020 point-in-time count found 386 unsheltered individuals in Ventura. Currently, there are three shelters in our City that can house up to 81 people. All shelters are at capacity, and when a spot opens, it is filled near immediately. Due to the shortage of shelter beds compared to the amount unsheltered on our streets, we are bound by this court decision. Enforcement would be illegal. This case was petitioned to the Supreme Court, but it was denied without comments.
Parks are public places that can be used by individuals regardless of housing status all day long. However, the City has a park ordinance where all parks close at dusk. That means that no one is allowed in our parks overnight, to camp, to play, to hang out, which is enforceable for everyone. If you see someone in the park after dark, please call the non-emergency number at (805) 650-8010, and VPD can respond accordingly.
The City of Ventura is unique, compared to other coastal cities, because we are also bordered by two rivers. These open areas have historically been places where individuals who cannot (due to certain constraints) or will not get help, live. These unsheltered individuals choose to live in the river bottom for various reasons, including but not limited to solitude, protection from the weather, economic factors, lack of available housing, addictions, mental illness, friends/family in the area, etc.
Martin V Boise, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case that was decided in 2018, found it unconstitutional, against the 8th amendment, to cite any individual for sitting, lying, or camping on public property if the City does not have appropriate shelter beds available. Due to being bound by this decision, the City cannot ticket or remove individuals from the river bottoms because we have nowhere to relocate them safely.
The City and partners have multiple efforts within the River Bottoms to have a presence with the population, making sure that they are connected to services, are being seen by healthcare professionals, and interact with law enforcement almost daily.
Backpack Medicine goes into the river bottom once a month to connect with individuals in the encampments to offer health care, vaccines, behavioral health care, and time with social workers. This consistent presence of support helps decrease the number of 911 calls and emergency visits from the unsheltered community. It offers connections and outreach to help build trust and work on assisting individuals into housing.
Once a week, the Whole Person Care Pod/One Stop is outside the Santa Clara River Bottom and the Ventura River Bottom near the Avenue to offer a medical clinic, supportive services, and showers to the unsheltered.
Once a month, Safe & Clean, the City/County Outreach Worker, and the Patrol Task Force pass out trash bags to individuals in the encampments and encourage them to bag their trash. The following day the Safe & Clean team picks up the bags and disposes of them properly. The engagement with this initiative is vast, with hundreds of bags being removed each month.
Abandoned encampments and those that pose a significant risk to the waterways are designated for monthly clean-ups. If the camp is active, the Patrol Task Force and Outreach workers connect with the individual multiple times, no less than a month in advance, to let them know about services and the pending clean-up. When a clean-up site is chosen, the individual is told that they can keep any belongings they’d like and tell us where that area is; all other materials left behind are considered debris and are removed. The individual is allowed back to the site if it isn’t in the direct waterway to the River, and we work closely with them to make sure the area stays clean.
Panhandling is protected on public property in the Constitution under the First Amendment as a “charitable appeal for funds." There are some caveats to this. Aggressive panhandling is illegal. Aggressive panhandling is when someone continues to follow you after you’ve declined and gets combative. If you experience this in the Downtown Area, you can connect with a Downtown Ambassador (dressed in a red shirt), or if in other areas of the City, you can call the police 24/7 non-emergency number at (805) 650-8010. Panhandling is not allowed on freeway onramps or off-ramps because of public safety factors, within 25 feet of a parking pay station, or within 50 feet of an ATM. Please call non-emergency if you are concerned that a panhandler is in violation. For your safety and that of our community, we ask that you say no to panhandlers and instead contribute to the solution by offering support to our local social service providers.
Yes, there is such an ordinance for the Downtown and parts of Avenue area, specific zones within the Harbor, tourist areas, and commercial zones. It is unlawful for a person to sit or lie down on a public sidewalk in those areas where they block access to paths or entrances to buildings. Please call the VPD 24/7 non-emergency number at (805) 650-8010 if an individual blocks access in the above designated areas.
If you own property and you have concerns with individuals blocking access, please make sure to file an Authority Letter (602 form) with the Police Department, so they have the authority to remove individuals from your property.
No, that’s not true. Currently, there are three shelters in Ventura. One at the ARCH, the Turning Point Foundation, and one at the Salvation Army. Turning Point has 14 beds for those who struggle with mental illness. The Salvation Army has 12 beds that are for men, women, and veterans. The ARCH has 55 beds, 38 for men and 17 for women, which has decreased to 32 beds due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements. These beds are always full, and when there is an available bed, it is routinely filled within a day. With 386 unsheltered in our City and only 81 shelter beds, we do not have the capacity needed. The goal is to get individuals who are in the shelters housed, so beds become available for others in need on our streets.
Yes, through One Stop and healthcare for the homeless, which are both County led programs, the City’s homeless population is being offered the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Vaccine efforts have started through one stop, backpack medicine, the whole person care pod – which is parked near the river bottoms, and a mobile medical clinic stationed Downtown. The goal is to take the vaccine to the individuals.
You can donate, volunteer, and educate. Our Safe & Clean website is updated frequently with ways you can be involved and be part of the solution. Through the site, you can donate to our local social service groups that have programs with proven track records. Show up for our community by volunteering to serve food at shelters, at local pantries, at One Stop, or with any social service provider.
Show up for our community by volunteering to serve food at shelters, at local pantries, at One Stop or with any social service provider.
Be engaged. Join the Ventura Social Services Task Force or learn what the City is doing at the Safe & Clean, Affordable Housing and Homelessness Subcommittee. Please feel free to check out all the resources on our site to download to share with family, friends, or whoever may be interested.
Advocate for local homeless services and support by reaching out to local legislative representatives: