By Macy Lu
DAVIS — As individuals and families continue to be impacted by the worst economic contraction since WWII, concern for the increase of unsheltered community members has been on the minds of more than a few Davis residents, including those on the Police Accountability Commission (PAC).
In an effort to learn more about how Davis has been mitigating homelessness during the pandemic, the PAC invited Deputy Director of Police Services Deanne Machado to provide insight on the city’s response during their February meeting.
“Our homeless outreach needs have increased quite dramatically over the past year specifically,” Machado highlighted in her opening statement.
The Homeless Services Outreach Unit is the unit the city created to address those needs. Though nestled under the police department, it comprises only civilian workers who use non-policing, “trauma informed” tactics in supporting the unhoused.
“We do not typically stick with a client for more than what is necessary to solve an acute issue,” Machado emphasized. “There are some exceptions to that, but generally speaking, it is an upfront intensive support model.”
“We are not social workers…we are out there in the field assisting in the moment,” she said. “It’s proactively meeting folks where they are,” and that includes “directly in the encampments, hotels [and] downtown.”
“Our part ends when the client is successfully referred to a partner-agency program…that’s our number one goal,” she clarified.
In partnership with local organizations such as Homeless and Poverty Action Coalition (HPAC), Continuum of Care for Yolo, CommuniCare Health Centers and Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS), the unit links individuals to resources that can meet essential needs such as food, shelter and transportation.
When outreaching, the unit workers often bring food as a way to directly provide for people and as a conversation starter for introducing people to the respite center, which also offers laundry facilities, showers, internet and linkages to services such as healthcare and psychiatric treatment.
As for shelter provision, the team serves as a “gateway” to services such as Project Roomkey–shelter for unhoused, medically vulnerable individuals during the pandemic–and Davis Emergency Shelter Program. The team also has a supply of hotel vouchers, which guarantees folks in “really, really emergency situations” a minimum of 8-weeks shelter.
To prevent an overlap of services, the unit partners with the county for individualized case management, including behavioral and mental risk assessments. This creates a “general warehouse of data that the county oversees and that [the city] has access to, so everyone is on the same page.”
In light of social-distancing standards, the team no longer gives transportation for people personally; however, as Machado underscored, they still assist people by handing out bus passes, booking them rideshare transportation and purchasing Amtrak or Greyhound tickets for those who have long-term residence outside of town.
When asked how the pandemic has affected their approach to outreach, Machado replied that during their outreaches, the workers pass out PPE such as masks, refer people to Davis testing sites and loop in CommuniCare to oversee the potentially infected.
As for plans to vaccinate the unsheltered, Machado clarified that though those have yet to be hashed out, she’s “sure there will be a role for us to play” when the right time comes.
Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachowicz added that “the challenge is nobody knows when that’s going to be.”
To answer one commissioner’s question regarding the number of calls her team receives on average, Machado replied, “Gosh, we are on many, many calls a day.” Last month alone, the police department logged around 136 calls from the community regarding homelessness. Including the number of calls from their partner organizations, that number should be even higher.
The Vanguard reached out to the city’s Records and Communications Manager to question how many monthly calls the unit receives but has not received a response.
While this is a testament to the indispensableness of the homeless outreach unit, it raises the question of whether the city is doing enough to mitigate the need for intervention services in the first place.
Mayor Gloria Partida recalled noticing an unsheltered “elderly woman who is in a wheelchair” each morning when she would drop off her son.
“How does a person who is elderly, disabled end up in that situation? Where were the safety nets?” Partida pondered.
“And there are examples of that, sadly, everywhere,” Machado added, “cases like that where you wonder what happened there. And we feel so much empathy around that.”
However, mitigation on the city- or even county-wide level may not be enough when it comes to tackling local homelessness.
In response to a question on people’s place of origin, Machado stated, “I can just tell you anecdotally speaking, that we have a lot of new faces in town, people who were otherwise unfamiliar to us with no history.”
With over 151,000 people homeless in California (this number has likely risen since the last official count in 2019), Machado’s statement, though grim, is unsurprising. It magnifies the reality that homelessness in Davis is only a single node in a larger nexus that requires more than the efforts of a single town to resolve.
Macy is a junior from Orange County, CA, studying Communications and English at UC Davis. She loves meeting people, reading books, and writing creatively.