PHOTO: Debra Jones, Mayor of Victorville, April artwork, Homeless Man with Dog

For this month’s column, I decided to share with you the City of Victorville’s long-term strategy for reducing homelessness in our community. Homelessness is one of the most difficult and complex challenges we face as a city and one of our most-asked-about issues.

According to the last three point-in-time counts, the City of Victorville has the second-highest concentration of homeless persons in the County of San Bernardino. The rise in homelessness in our city is indicative of a broader trend throughout the state. In fact, California accounts for nearly 50 percent of our nation’s homeless population.

A variety of factors can lead to homelessness including rising housing costs, financial instability, substance abuse, health concerns, and more. Because there is no one cause of homelessness, we must work to provide a framework of support to assist our homeless community. This assistance must provide for the basic human needs of dignity, respect, health, shelter, and opportunity. We are working to provide this supportive framework for Victorville’s homeless.

Our strategy, developed in concert with our Homelessness Solutions Task Force, is to increase access to shelter, health care, and supportive services. We will achieve this in a few ways.

First, we are working to construct a Wellness Center Campus. This facility will offer a low-barrier, emergency shelter with life-changing services, such as income stabilization, housing navigation, and mental health counseling to help homeless individuals break the cycle of homelessness and improve their quality of life. Case managers will provide individualized assistance, and an onsite medical clinic will be available to shelter residents and the broader community. This 168-unit facility will be located on City-owned land at 16902 First Street.

PHOTO: Wellness center for homeless

So far, we’ve been awarded a Permanent Local Housing Allocation Grant that will provide approximately $630,000 annually to support Wellness Center operations, a one-time Homeless Housing and Prevention Grant in the amount of $300,000, and a federal allocation of Community Development Block Grant funding of $95,215 to aid with construction of the Center. Additionally, we’re very hopeful that our grant request for $16.8 million in the state’s new round of HomeKey funds will be approved in reasonably short order. This grant will fund the remaining construction costs.

We’ve also collaborated with the County to refurbish the old Queens Motel on Stoddard Wells Road into permanent housing for our chronically homeless. Newly named as the Desert Haven Apartments, this 32-unit facility will incorporate wraparound services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment and employment services necessary to help individuals gain stability. Desert Haven is expected to open in the coming months.

PHOTO: Rendering of Desert Haven

While we work to construct our Wellness Center Campus, we are collaborating with our three shelter operators in Victorville to provide our homeless community access to shelter and supportive services. One of these shelters, located at our Westwinds Sports Center, will be operated by Illumination Foundation starting June 1 and is fully funded by the City.

Furthering our goals to provide a supportive framework to our City’s homeless, our City Council recently took action in compliance with federal case law to decriminalize camping in public spaces.

Homelessness in and of itself is a human issue, not a criminal issue. This is why our Council voted to remove the criminal citation from our municipal code and replace it with an administrative process that includes expanding outreach efforts to help transition homeless individuals to available resources and shelter. 

To be clear, this ordinance applies to camping on public property only.  Trespassing and vagrancy on private property will continue to be addressed. 

We are grateful to our shelter operators and the members of our task force who faithfully contribute their knowledge, experience, resources, and time to this important cause for our community.

I invite you to follow the work of our Homelessness Solutions Task Force and view our action plan at VictorvilleCA.gov/HomelessnessSolutions.