By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA -The Davis City Council created the daytime Respite Center in 2019 and then the pandemic hit. As it turned out, that time was “fortuitous,” staff determined. Providing homeless services have proven to have significant challenges, however city staff believes it is in the city’s best interest to continue the contract through June 30, 2023.
The Respite Center opened its doors on February 24, 2020, just weeks before the City declared a State of Emergency because of Covid-19.
“Through the many challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the center continues to serve as a vital part of the fight against the spread of Covid-19 infection among the homeless population and the broader community of Davis,” staff writes.
“Overall, the Respite Center has been a valuable addition to the spectrum of services available throughout the Davis community to assist unhoused individuals,” the city staff wrote in its staff report for Tuesday. “It has been fortuitous that the Center opened just as the pandemic started; our ability as a community to keep the most vulnerable members safe was greatly enhanced by having this resource.”
Staff notes that, through the Center, the community is able to provide “positive assistance to individuals” and as the new Department of Social Services becomes operational, “staff will be looking at the City’s overall homelessness strategy, which will include the Respite Center, its services, its location and its setup, in search of continuous improvement.”
However, staff acknowledges, “the Center and the City’s ability to address homelessness is not without significant challenges.”
The City and CommuniCare are both “continuing to work to keep the area around the Center safe and well-kept.”
Staff is concerned, “Numerous individuals hang out around the Center but do not access services, and often engage in behaviors in the vicinity of the Center that are not appropriate and result in calls for service or increased frustrations from business and residential neighbors.”
Further, “Financing the social services provided at the Respite Center is expensive. And at the end of the day, the Respite Center does not provide overnight shelter, forcing daytime clients to fend for themselves once the Center closes.”
Staff is asking to extend the CommuniCare contract to $460,224—funding would be allocated from ARP (American Rescue Plan) money. Staff notes previously most of the costs have been funded using CARES Act funding from both Yolo County and City’s Community Development Block Grant—however “both sources were one-time dollars and have been spent.”
Staff notes, “CommuniCare is also requesting a change to the staffing configuration, which, if approved, would increase the annual CommuniCare contract to $345,168, and a 16-month contract to $460,224.
“CommuniCare is requesting to expand their staffing to accommodate needs they have identified in managing the Center by designating 1 FTE clinician dedicated to the Center,” staff explains.
Currently the Respite Center provides a variety of services to the needs of unsheltered individuals including the connection of those individuals to services.
Among these are: general service connections, health needs, veterinary needs, “The Hub”, showers and restrooms, laundry facilities, storage, relaxation, and mail.
The staff report notes “the Center has been operating under Covid-19 restrictions almost since it opened. This has posed challenges, provided opportunities and caused the Center to pivot to a Covid-focused operation within weeks of opening. It quickly became a critical part of the City’s Covid-response infrastructure, with a goal of preventing the spread of the disease among the city unsheltered individuals.”
The program also allowed CommuniCare to coordinate with Yolo County in order to identify the most vulnerable individuals to participate in Project Roomkey.
“Project Roomkey was the County’s program to house unsheltered individuals in hotel rooms throughout the County specifically for those who are medically vulnerable to Covid-19 infection and for those who need to isolate or quarantine due to positive Covid-19 test results,” staff writes.
According to the Davis Police Department there was “an increase in drug/alcohol and suspicious activity calls for service the past 12 months.”
Drug calls for service averaged about three per month, suspicious activity calls for service averaged roughly 16 per month, and violent crime calls for service averaged roughly 10 calls per month.
Staff writes, “The overwhelming majority of violent crime calls taken around the Center involve individuals known to one another, with some nexus to drugs and alcohol.”
They add, “The data across nearly all categories appear to have peaked in the third quarter of 2021, which is consistent with other areas of town due to intervening variables such as weather and available daylight hours.”
But also notable is that “this period reflects the demobilization period for Project Roomkey, which housed more than 40 homeless individuals per night for over a year. The demobilization of Project Roomkey resulted in a direct increase in traffic at and around the Respite Center.”
Furthermore, “A comparative analysis of the data prior to the Respite Center launch suggest that, in general, call volume has either decreased or remained stable. Specifically, calls regarding violent crime, nuisance, and property theft have decreased over time.”
On the other hand, staff notes, “the data fails to capture some of the larger public safety challenges related to the Respite Center and the extent to which the Police Department has worked, in collaboration with our partners, to address these issues.”
The department has had to deploy serious code enforcement efforts to address problems with visual blight due to littering and dumping. It has also needed to use “a community oriented public safety approach to address the issues of loitering around the center which has, at times, resulted in the nuisance and violence related calls for service being included in the data.”
Still, despite these challenges, the city believes that the council should extend the Respite Center another 16 months to place it on the regular two-year budget cycle.