Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee presented a “Homelessness and Quality of Life Plan” to the City Council on Aug. 6 that recommended a coordinated approach by police, the community and city or county programs.
Smithee said the situation urgently needs more community-wide attention. He said his officers were, on average, arresting one homeless person every hour for various crimes and offenses.
Gilroy’s homeless population is estimated at 722 by the Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey. The quality of life plan presented by Smithee aims to help with community relations, reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness and manage the growing number of people living on the streets.
Smithee told the council that along with the plan, his department has a task force of officers who focus on the homeless community and quality of life calls.
The short-term goals of the plan looking into what the cost would be to have “full-time case management services counselors through the Office of Supportive Housing.” Other short-term plans address banning or regulating the parking of oversized/recreational vehicles.
Smithee told the council that the cost to remove RVs has risen from $500 to $950. Smithee said the police department had previously funded the $500 removal of the vehicles, but financing is becoming increasingly difficult.
The chief also said the department was hoping to partner with several organizations within Santa Clara County and Gilroy. An intermediate goal proposed was to create a homeless task force that would be called when police presence is not necessary.
Other intermediate solutions include waste clean-up, a safe parking program and a solution for 24-hour restrooms with some public restrooms now being locked at night.
Smithee proposed a handful of long-term goals as well. He said the department was considering extending hours of the Compassion Center in partnership with the organization, hiring a housing specialist, giving the homeless community a place to legally stay and looking into a creating a “Tiny Homes Village” to house the homeless.
Tensions between Gilroy constituents and the homeless community have continued to mount throughout 2018.
On Jan. 6 local business owner Sal Oliveri was stabbed by a man in his Pinocchio’s Pizza restaurant. Following the incident, a city council meeting was held where some constituents voiced frustrations and others defended the homeless community in Gilroy.
There continued to be disagreement within the council and with Gilroy residents on what the best approach was to handling the growing homelessness problem.
Council member Dion Bracco said at the meeting that homeless people who broke the law did not fear arrest in Gilroy. “The cities that don’t have this problem, it’s because they don’t tolerate it,” said Bracco.
Smithee said that while many police officers pay out of pocket to help homeless citizens, there is a segment of those experiencing homelessness in Gilroy who are “generally unpleasant.”
Bracco was in favor of a more hardline approach, saying, “I think we need to start approaching this differently instead of enabling the homeless community.”
In opposition to Bracco, Councilman Fred Tovar was in favor of giving more assistance to the community and said at the meeting, “I don’t think saying, ‘Get out of our town; we don’t want you’ is a solution.”
While the study presented possible plans and new approaches by the police department, Smithee made it clear it wouldn’t be the last public discussion on the topic. “This is obviously a very difficult situation, and there’s no easy answer,” said the police chief.