About 100 individuals woke up in Napa shelters on Wednesday morning while another 100 to 200 people greeted the day in their vehicles, tents and on sidewalks. Some have been homeless for years, but others have been homeless for just a few months.
Napa County’s annual Point-In-Time Count, or homeless census, is a one-day tally of all sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families living in Napa County.
The purpose of the count and the accompanying survey is to increase understanding of homelessness in the community and to make sure that the programs in place are addressing the needs of the population, officials say.
Last year, the shelters were full, and nearly 100 other people had no shelter. By mid-morning Wednesday, this year’s numbers looked about the same, said Rodney Seib, shelter coordinator with Abode Services.
Exact numbers weren’t available, but by the afternoon, the estimate was between 100 and 200, according to Brandon Gardner, Napa Police Department’s homeless outreach specialist.
“It looks like our numbers are going to be higher than last year,” Gardner said.
Although some people have been housed in the last year, more people have taken to the street, Seib said. On Wednesday morning, he encountered about six people that he didn’t know. A few were from Vallejo and two were from Suisun.
“It’s a slick little camp,” Seib said. It was so well hidden he almost didn’t see it. “You walk right by it.”
While collecting information for the survey – including a person’s birthday, veteran status and where they slept the night prior – Seib dispersed information about available resources and even calmed some fears.
The new group was afraid of that they were going to get arrested if they didn’t leave, but Seib informed them that a sign must be posted in advance.
“(They were) freaked about the cops,” he said.
Many individuals on the streets are forced to be nomadic – either reparking their RV every few days or moving their campsite out of one off-limits area to another. Some people get resourceful, making walls around their campsite out of plants and other natural materials. Or they put their campsite underneath a canopy of trees, which also act as coat racks.
Some people have even placed booby traps around their campsites so that they’re alerted when someone is near.
“These folks are very creative,” Gardner said.
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A 48-year-old woman staying in an encampment in the Kennedy Park area had her campsite set up like a tiny house. She had a flourishing succulent garden on one side of her tarped, dome-shaped dwelling and a patio set on the other. The perimeter was lined with stones.
“I always gotta feel a little bit at home,” the woman said.
Gardner said the woman has been without housing for about a decade. He has found her housing before, but it didn’t last, he said. In the last few months, the woman’s partner died after having an aneurysm at work and her dog got sick. On Wednesday, she seemed open to the possibility of finding permanent housing.
“You know we’re here for you,” Betty Figueiras-Davidson, mental health and substance use disorder counselor with Napa County Health and Human Services, told the woman before giving her a hug. “I’m going to leave my card one more time.”
Figueiras-Davidson responds with firefighters and local law enforcement officials to calls that might be related to mental health and/or substance use. She often decides whether or not someone can be taken in as a “5150,” an involuntary hold, and helps get people connected to resources. Then she follows up with them.
This means she works pretty closely with the county’s homeless population and has come to know many chronically homeless people pretty well.
“We lose a lot of people to illness involving alcohol,” said Figueiras-Davidson after finding out one of the homeless men she and Gardner were checking on had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. It’s always difficult when someone dies, she said.
“We just want people to be safe and we want people to get the help that they need,” she said.
Since Abode Services took over shelter management, outreach and rapid rehousing in the summer, Gardner’s outreach team can focus more on dealing with police and fire calls associated with Napa’s homeless. Still, he said, even with the expertise of Abode Services, which runs operations in several Bay Area counties and focuses on “housing first,” things aren’t better yet because there is just no housing.
“With housing the way it is right now, it’s a fight,” Gardner said. “Everybody’s scrambling.” Increasing rental prices don’t help, he said, estimating that prices have gone up about $200 to $300 a month since the October wildfires.
In December, the average rent for a Napa County one-bedroom unit was $1,923 per month. The year before, the average rent was $1,745, according to Marcus & Millichap Research Services and MPF Research.
“Finding housing is really half the battle,” said Emma Moyer, senior housing programs manager at Abode Services in Napa County. She says that the organization is currently searching for housing, helping potential tenants get their paperwork ready and slowly ramping up funding.
Once housing is available, someone doesn’t have to go through the shelter in order to be housed, Moyer said. And, in order to keep people housed, Abode offers wraparound services, subsidies when necessary and teaches the new renters how to be good neighbors and good tenants, she said.