Homelessness in Pomona peaks

In the city of Pomona, homeowners and the homeless are concerned with new city policies on homelessness. Public places, such as Ganesha Park, have been affected by encampments and fires.

In March of 2016, 15 homeless people sued the city after Pomona police officers confiscated and disposed of items such as identification, prescription medication and family photos. The suit was settled in August, resulting in $49,000 in damages for the 15 plaintiffs and a $100,000 project to create the Transitional Storage Center—a collection of 388 lockers in the courtyard of the Pomona Armory—which opened in November.

As part of the settlement, Pomona agreed to allow the homeless to have 60 gallons of attended property, leave individuals notices of where to retrieve their property if it was confiscated for being unattended and store the property free up to 90 days.

The city also agreed that as there is not enough space in shelters, police will not enforce anti-camping and unauthorized sleeping-area laws until there is sufficient housing and accommodations.

A census of the city found that 689 people were without permanent residence and 336 were in visible areas like Ganesha Park, according to the Jan. 26 report by Pomona Homeless Service Coordinator Jan Cicco.

“For a city of our size, 689 homeless people is a considerable amount,” Cicco said.

At the Jan. 9 city council meeting, homeowners urged the council to enforce the anti-encampment laws and unauthorized sleeping-area laws set in place before the settlement. Homeless people testified that the city is still enforcing the laws and withholding funds despite the agreement. The council decided to uphold the agreements made in the settlement.

Kristen Emmons, who has been homeless for the past eight months and is currently living in the park, said the police are still harassing and confiscating property. Emmons said her property, including her bike and tent, were confiscated by Pomona police in early February.

“They’ve been harassing all the homeless. The police are going against the law, but if I go against the law I’m going to jail,” Emmons said.

As per the agreement, Pomona police should not enforce encampment laws unless the area is known for drug activity.

“Ganesha Park is known by police to be an area for drugs and crime,” Cicco said. “They are within legal bounds to enforce encampment laws. As for Ms. Emmons’ property, it will be stored for free up to 90 days and she can pick it up any time.”

From 2008 to 2012, Pomona received a total of $3,318,017 in grants and funding to help solve the issue of homelessness, according to The State of Homelessness in Pomona report of 2013. In 2015, the city spent $294,309 on projects to benefit the homeless, according to the Emergency Solutions Grant budget worksheet.

“The city is now focusing on the Supportive Housing Program and the Pomona Homeless Outreach Program, funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Cicco said.

The Pomona Housing Authority expects formal project proposals for 30 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development by Mar. 31. The city is also looking into expanding the Transitional Storage Center.

In 2016, Emmons made a formal request to the city to provide a porta potty in the park. According to Emmons, the city only installed one porta potty near City Hall, which is over two miles walking distance from the park.

“Ganesha Park’s bathrooms are closed at night, leaving the homeless without restrooms,” Cicco said. “This has turned into a public health hazard, which is why we are looking to reduce the amount of people living there.”

Emmons explained that many homeless people have flocked to Ganesha Park after laws in Los Angeles became stricter in 2016.

“We have found that many of the people in our city who are homeless came here after LA passed new laws last year,” Cicco said. “They are looking for a safe-haven.”

Mental health and drug issues are prevalent among the homeless community in Ganesha Park, Cicco and Emmons said.

“Some of us didn’t plan on being homeless, but we do need help. We do need to work with the community, I know sometimes it gets out of hand. There’s mental issues, there’s drug issues, but we’re human beings, we have issues,” she said.

At the Jan. 9 council meeting, home owners urged the council members to enforce laws already in place.

“We just laid over and made a deal that we’re not going to enforce the laws of the park regarding camping and more importantly, starting fires,” said Greg Irwin.

Irwin has lived in his home on Paige Drive across from the park for 16 years.

Around 11 a.m. Oct. 20 a homeless man using a small barbecue to keep himself warm started a fire on Paige Drive, burning the fence, palm trees, and singing the myrtle trees on Irwin’s property, he said.

“If those trees would’ve went up who knows how many houses would have gone up,” Irwin told the council. “I wonder if I’m allowed to sue the city for negligence when my house gets burned down because of the homeless they’re allowing to sleep there at night?”

Irwin said that within the first week of January, he had already told police of four large fires in the cabanas of the park. He suggested that the city bring back the Pomona park police that was disbanded shortly after he moved to the city in 2001.

Pomona resident Lisa Schneider said that to decrease fire hazards, the city should remove dead plant debris from the park and enforce fire codes.

“I understand there’s a zero-tolerance policy, but I have not seen that be enforced,” Schneider said.

Ron VanderMullen, who has lived in Pomona for over 20 years, agreed that enforcing the laws already put in place is the best course of action for combatting the issue of homelessness. He commended the city council for their eradication of the homeless on Commercial Street in late January.

“We need to do again what we did at Commercial Street. I have heart for our homeless, but I think it’s equally important that we enforce our laws in public places and the park. They’re for everybody. And having homeless in the park does not make them useful for everybody,” he said.

Emmons agreed that the fires are a hazard, but said they are a necessity, especially for those who do not have tents and sleeping bags or who have had them confiscated.

“We do have to stay warm, I’m sorry that we have to start fires. Tonight, I have no blankets, they were taken from me. I had a tent where I can lock myself safe. Am I going back tonight to a tent? No. I’m going back to nothing, nothing but this purse I have,” Emmons said.

Emmons said Pomona residents’ main problem with homelessness is not the fires, but the eye sore, the result of a vicious cycle that victimizes the homeless.

“You think you need to do something because your city would look better if the homeless weren’t walking around,” Emmons said.

However, the city looks to address homeowners’ concerns and the needs of the homeless.

“Such a substantial amount of homelessness is not favorable for the city, but we are spending federal funding on programs to relieve the issue, not police to enforce and instigate,” Cicco said.

The story above was written as an assignment for my Journalism 300 class. Information and quotes should not all be taken as fact.

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