Davis Social Services Commission Approves Extension of Daytime Respite Center

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By Melanie Johnson

 

DAVIS, CA – The Davis Social Services Commission met on Monday night to discuss the extension of the program for the Daytime Respite Center for Unhoused Individuals in Davis and the renewal of the city’s contract with CommuniCare, an organization which has partnered with the city in their facilitation of the program. 

 

The commission unanimously approved the extension recommendation which would extend the program through June 20, 2023 and included additional amendments which they felt better encapsulated the intended purpose of the Respite Center’s efforts for their final recommendation to City Council on Tuesday March 1st. 

 

The Daytime Respite Center provides a variety of services and assistance to the unhoused population of Davis, including behavioral and medical care services, counseling, and veterinary services. 

 

Staff liaison Dagoberto Fierros gave a brief overview of the program, which began on Feb. 24, 2020 with the mission to “improve the quality of life of individuals experiencing homelessness in Davis.” 

 

Establishing the existing need for the program, Fierros detailed the Respite Center’s Point-In-Time (PIT) count, which “gives the city an idea of how many homeless individuals are within our city at any given time.” He recounted that “the City of Davis saw an increase of individuals experiencing homelessness from 114 in 2009 . . . to 190 at any given time in 2019.”

 

Fierros also provided data collected from the program’s outreach to neighboring residents of the Respite Center, which consists of neighborhood surveys and virtual meetings intended to “[guide] us to be more proactive within the center and also with things going on outside of the center.” 

 

Fierros related that although police service calls in the area have generally “decreased or remained stable,” there has been an increase in “calls for suspicious activity and calls related to drug and alcohol.” 

 

Following Fierros’ overview, staff members of the Respite Center gave a presentation on the Respite Center’s progress and the value of its services to the unhoused community of Davis. 

 

CommuniCare Health Centers’ Chief Behavioral Health Officer Sara Gavin detailed the perseverance of Respite Center staff in the face of the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges their operation has endured upon opening their doors. 

 

She stated that “there’s been an evolution to this program as we’ve kind of had to adjust and we’re pretty proud to report that throughout COVID, the height of COVID shutdowns, workforce challenges, there’s only been one single day that we couldn’t provide services throughout this entire time.” 

 

Gavin added that in spite of these difficulties and uncertainties, “people showed up every single day looking to access services and we ended up adding Saturdays at some point because there was so much utilization and we felt like people really needed more access to care.”

 

Associate Clinical Director of Behavioral Health Tegwin Millard emphasized CommuniCare staff’s focus on “dignity related factors” in their care for unhoused individuals. She stated that along those lines, “some of the practical things that we’ve been able to do for people is we’ve completed 951 loads of laundry at the respite center and 1,174 showers were taken.”

 

She stressed the importance of the sense of dignity the Respite Center helps provide to unhoused individuals, adding that “one of the primary drivers for people coming to the center is just being able to have safety and feel like a human.”

 

Millard also detailed the types of case management services offered by the Respite Center, which range from “helping people to get connected to primary care, mental health, substance abuse disorder treatment” to “document assistance of things like driver[s] license or social security cards or other kind[s] of vital documents that help them to gain employment or to get an apartment or apply for housing.”

 

Respite Center Supervisor Yvonne Page offered one of the Respite Center’s several success stories. She detailed how one of their guests, “a 52-year-old male [who] has been experiencing homelessness for approximately two years . . . would arrive at the Respite Center every day with a smile on his face after collecting multiple bags of recycling.” 

 

Page further explained, “He would sort all of them at the respite center, stating that it was a safe place for him, hoping the money that he acquired would help him sustain his basic needs at night when the respite center was closed.”

 

Ultimately, the Respite Center team “assisted this guest with acquiring a cell phone, benefits linkage, and most importantly, housing,” which Page revealed that the guest still resides in today. 

 

However, in spite of success stories like this one, the Respite Center is still struggling in its daily operation. Both Fierros and the presenting CommuniCare staff members emphasized that lack of volunteering, likely spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, is a major limiting factor.

 

Sara Gavin noted that they had originally hoped “to be reliant on some more volunteers” and as a result, their staff has been “running pretty lean.” 

 

Millard further explained that “when we have additional staff that are diverted from this operational kind of role and tasks that they’ve been primarily doing, that will free them up for maybe longer sessions with clients, getting to know people more, accompanying people to . . . a service provider at some point, and to do some more outreach to the community.”

 

Responding to these operational challenges as well as criticisms received by neighboring residents, Millard also emphasized the need for long-term perspective when assessing an operation such as this one. 

 

She stated that, “I think with the economic situation that we have and people still reeling from the outcome of COVID and the ongoing impact of COVID . . . homelessness and housing instability is going to continue to be a significant problem in our community.”

 

According to Page, long-term active trust-building might need to precede immediate relief of neighbor concerns. 

 

“I can’t tell you of a quick fix or solution for that but what I’m doing right now and what my staff is doing right now is . . . we’re building a lot of trust with our guests and they’re helping and they’re working on the things that need to make the front of Respite presentable.”

 

Gavin also addressed the difficulty of conveying the program’s positive impact to neighboring residents who have expressed concern, stating that “when we have community meetings, the clients we serve are not the ones showing up expressing their gratitude for services.”

 

Gavin added that “ultimately having a well-staffed center I think will help the neighborhood and help the clients we serve and help our staff that are running the services.” 

 

Page reinforced these individuals’ desperate need for empathy. She stated that “sometimes we lose sight of what brought people there. Just in my experience in the year that I’ve worked with the unhoused population I’ve just heard so many stories and every single one of them is different and they’re just so thought-provoking.”

 

She concluded that “we’re all humans and we’ve all been through struggles,” and emphasized that each unhoused individual is a “person who has been through severe and significant trauma . . . it took a lot for them to get there and it’s going to take a lot for them to get help.” 

 

Fierros affirmed the dire need for volunteers expressed by the CommuniCare staff members and insisted that, “One of the best ways to be a great neighbor to our unhoused population is volunteering at the Respite Center and supporting CommuniCare staff in their efforts and the services they provide there six days a week.”

 

He mentioned that those seeking to volunteer should either contact him directly or contact Respite Center staff members on-site.  Additional information regarding volunteering is available on the Davis city website

 

Social Services Commision Chair Judith Ennis thanked the Respite Center staff for the “incredible work” they do and the commission finalized their recommendation to City Council in which they advocated for the city’s extension of the CommuniCare contract.

 

The commission also opted to include additional amendments to the recommendation which prioritized shopping cart theft mitigation, hiring of Respite Center staff with lived experience, and continuing and improved public outreach regarding public needs and volunteer acquisition. 

 

This recommendation and its amendment were unanimously approved by the Social Services Commission. 

 

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About The Author

Jordan Varney received a masters from UC Davis in Psychology and a B.S. in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd. Varney is editor in chief of the Vanguard at UC Davis.

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4 thoughts on “Davis Social Services Commission Approves Extension of Daytime Respite Center”

  1. Ron Oertel

    Just to clarify, the only commission that can “approve” anything (other than making recommendations) is the planning commission.  And even they can be over-ridden by the council (as we saw with the University Mall megadorm).

    By the way, when are they going to start knocking down buildings, there? And are there any claims that Measure J is holding that up?

    (Leaving aside Chiles Ranch, and the former site of Davis Health Care regarding “delays” which also have nothing to do with Measure J.)

    Also, when are they going to start knocking-down Trackside?

  2. Alan Miller

    “some of the practical things that we’ve been able to do for people is we’ve completed 951 loads of laundry at the respite center and 1,174 showers were taken.”

    That’s like 2 showers and 1.5 loads of laundry per day?   I would have expected a couple of dozen loads of laundry and showers each every day, with homeless coming in from all over town to clean up.   Like 15,000 – 20,000 would seem like reasonable numbers to make it worthwhile.

    “I think with the economic situation that we have and people still reeling from the outcome of COVID and the ongoing impact of COVID . . . homelessness and housing instability is going to continue to be a significant problem in our community.”

    Economics and Covid-19, but no mention of meth or fentanyl.

    Responding to . . .  criticisms received by neighboring residents, Millard also emphasized the need for long-term perspective . . .

    That actually doesn’t mean anything, solve any concerns, isn’t a response, and is a dodge.

    According to Page, long-term active trust-building might need to precede immediate relief of neighbor concerns. 

    Relief of neighbor concerns was promised by the City from Day 1.  How two years out is it even permitted to be an issue that isn’t being solved?  But apparently first we must have – “active trust-building“.  Such as?

    “I can’t tell you of a quick fix or solution for that . . . ”

    Closing the Respite Center is a quick fix for that.

    but what I’m doing right now and what my staff is doing right now is . . . we’re building a lot of trust with our guests

    So your ‘active trust-building’ that proceeds fixes to neighbor concerns isn’t with the neighbors, it’s with your ‘guests’.  In other words, ‘neighbors be d*mned’ — our staffing this place for 1.5 daily loads of laundry (that could be done at a laundromat) is more important.

    and they’re helping and they’re working on the things that need to make the front of Respite presentable.”

    Then why, after two years, is it NOT presentable?  [at least last time I looked].  And by the way, also not presentable is a lot of the neighborhood with all the litter/trash strewn about in too many places within a few blocks.  This town didn’t used to look like this.  Why do we allow it?

    Gavin also addressed the difficulty of conveying the program’s positive impact to neighboring residents who have expressed concern

    Maybe it’s because you aren’t making much of a case, and you aren’t giving neighbors any hope that you know how to make things better, nor that you care.

    stating that “when we have community meetings, the clients we serve are not the ones showing up expressing their gratitude for services.”

    Again that doesn’t sound like caring what the neighbors think, that sounds like wanting homeless people to show up as supporters to score political points to counter neighbor complaints, not deal with neighbor issues.

    “One of the best ways to be a great neighbor to our unhoused population is volunteering at the Respite Center. . . ”

    Um, NO.  You’ve got this backwards and attempting to turn the tables and I’m not going to let you.  The problem is that our ‘unhoused’ population are not being great neighbors to the housed population.

    Another concern is that people are acting like homelessness is all about lack of money, but it’s also about mental health issues and drug addiction.  My best friend runs an addiction center.  Employees are told it is best not live in the same community as your clientele for professional separation and personal safety, so he commutes 30 minutes to work.

    And yet here in Davis this organization is seeking ‘free staff’ by asking for volunteers from the neighborhood who are not trained professionals and asking them to deal with people with severe issues who are in their community.  This strikes me as unwise.

    ” . . . and supporting CommuniCare staff in their efforts and the services they provide there six days a week.”

    That just sounds like an advertisement for an organization seeking justification for renewal of a contract.

  3. Keith Olson

    Economics and Covid-19, but no mention of meth or fentanyl.

    I’d like to know the percentages of who are homeless due to COVID compared to being homeless due to meth.

    1. David Greenwald

      A report found that the top five causes of homelessness were (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, (4) mental illness and the lack of needed services and (5) substance abuse and the lack of needed services.

      Homelessness is often complicated by addiction and mental illness. Statewide, the number of psychiatric beds decreased by 30% between 1995 and 2010, according to the California Hospital Association.

      For women, domestic violence is also a leading cause of homelessness. Children who are homeless are significantly more likely to be homeless as adults.

      One thing to bear in mind, substance abuse is often untreated mental illness where people are self-medicating.

      If you want percentages, finding recent reliable studies is illusive… Data on substance abuse is difficult to obtain because it relies on self-reporting and estimates.

      One study estimated about 38 percent of homeless had alcohol problems, 26 percent abused other drugs (there’s overlap between the two groups).

      Another study found that two-thirds of homeless people report that drugs
      and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless.

      On the other hand, some studies suggest that substance abuse is a result of homelessness rather than a cause. People who are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situations. They use substances in an attempt to attain temporary relief from their problems. In reality, however, substance dependence only exacerbates their problems and decreases their ability to achieve employment stability and get off the streets.

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