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Council hears plight of homeless

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 02/02/2009 - 11:08am

JHomeless profileoseph Valencia has appealed the City for help in providing a shelter for himself and other homeless people in town.

During the public comment period of last week’s City Council meeting, a homeless man named Joseph Valencia appealed for a new shelter in Martinez. “We’ve got homeless people out there, like myself, who can’t find shelter and we are stuck out in the cold, literally,” said Valencia. “I’ve tried to locate a homeless shelter and it’s true that there is a shelter in Concord – they’re full. Shelters in Richmond – they’re full. We need a shelter or location in Martinez where a homeless person can get warm, get a place to sleep where they don’t have to worry about being murdered, raped, robbed. A safe haven to go to. Our problem is we don’t have money, we don’t have a house, we can’t find employment.”  

Mayor Schroder pledged to contact Cynthia Belon, director of the county’s homeless program to inquire about the possibility of a shelter via a city and county partnership.

Tim O’Keefe, executive director of SHELTER, Inc., a shelter in Martinez for homeless families, confirmed Valencia’s statement on the true lack of shelter availability in the area.

“We just accept families with at least one child in the household unit,” said O’Keefe. “There is an adult shelter in North Concord, but they are always full with a long waiting list.”

Resident Paul Wilson compiled a list of items he’d like to see accomplished this year, including the completion of an earthquake retrofit ordinance, an inclusionary housing ordinance, the privatizing of the Marina, and an historic inventory of downtown buildings, as well as resolve the downtown flooding problem, complete the transformation of the old railroad depot to a museum, and create a marketing plan for downtown.

Councilmember Menesini requested the City Manager to look at the potential site of a new ferry terminal and come up with a marketing plan to entice developers to bring a waterfront restaurant to the location.

Menesini also suggested, and Schroder supported, the creation of a Public Safety Committee, which would be a standing committee within the Council, to “address police issues with respect to their operations,” and the topic is scheduled on the agenda for February.

After the meeting, Valencia spoke about the unfairness shown to area homeless by the City, evidenced by a recent action of the Public Works Department.

There are several City-owned lockers near the Amtrak ostensibly used by commuters to store bicycles; however, a few homeless people have been renting the locker to store their personal belongings. At the beginning of January, City workers opened the lockers and disposed of the contents, and some locker renters were distraught over the confiscation of their items.

“The City Public Works Department went to the Amtrak station to inspect the City- owned bicycle lockers. The lockers are rented by commuters to store bicycles while commuting on Amtrak, but information was received that individuals were using the lockers as storage lockers for items other than bicycles, in violation of the rental agreement. An MPD officer accompanied the Public Works employees to sort out what was contained in the lockers,” said MPD Chief Tom Simonetti on January 15.

Valencia said the City gave no warning of the locker sweep, in violation of the rental contract that states renters would receive a written warning of such impending actions.