By Javier A. Powell, Reporter
As previously reported, during their meeting on December 3, 2022, the Los Banos City Council voted 4-1 to close the homeless encampment. Prior to that meeting, new mayor, Paul Llanez introduced his 17-page Homeless Crisis Strategic Plan to address the crisis facing the city. On January 2nd I had the pleasure of digitally interviewing Mayor Llanez on implementing his plan.
Regarding the process for implementation, the anticipated plan is currently in the very beginning. City meetings of staff and workshops need to be conducted. In order for such a plan to work, everyone involved needs to “work together to create measurable goals and timelines.” Coordination with all the administrative organs of the city is key.
The biggest hurdle is time. The building of a dual-purpose homeless and evacuation shelter could take “roughly two or so years to complete without any major issues.” The big hurdle here is caused by the bureaucratic machinery that must turn to authorize a building project, and the building of a relationship with a non-profit to run normal operations.
While there hasn’t been any negative feedback from local residents near the proposed site of the shelter Paul has received criticism. The main criticism most residents seem to have regarding the whole plan is that many homeless will simply not utilize the shelter provided to them. The mayor recognizes this but would like to clarify that the shelter is not the only aspect of the plan. The plan is a two-pronged solution, once the shelter has enough accommodations, the city will be allowed to amend its laws and realize proper penalties for lawbreakers. “We want to offer help and resources to those who seek it out but send a very clear message that our city will hold those accountable for choosing to use our streets for criminal purposes.”
However, the shelter will not be a lawless place. Another layer to the plan is strict regulations. Those who wish to help themselves will be given the resources and guidance they need, but troublesome members of the homeless community will be removed if they do not follow the rules. Llanez does not believe that this issue is purely housing, even with their most urgent need met there will of course be those who fall back into their bad habits.
“If we had the resources to build every single homeless person their own place, some of those properties would be destroyed or uninhabitable in a short time,” he responded.
Many homeless on our streets have pets and/or strays they feed and house with their limited ability. Oftentimes it can seem as if the only living thing interacting with the homeless without prejudice are animals on the streets, and unsurprisingly create strong bonds with them. Llanez believes, “pets can be a great motivational factor to want to improve their lives” and is working to try and include outside kennels within the shelter plans. He wants to avoid any separation of pets if possible and make losing a pet the price of utilizing shelter and help, a crueler policy could lead to actively avoiding the shelter.
The shelter has another crucial function as an evacuation shelter. During a major emergency, the fire and police departments will be able to immediately utilize the shelter as a relocation point for the community. The shelter will also have the ability to expand its operations in an emergency, being directly next door to the new police department building. Thanks to this close proximity, a wide footprint of land could be used, and its location off the Rail Trail provides a footpath through the heart of the city.
At the core of the issue here are actual people, with their own great struggles. Some homeless have even contacted the new mayor to show their support for his plan. While even I have had my encounters with the more lawless or troubled end of their spectrum, we would be blind to not aid those who have the potential and will to be productive citizens take the first steps.
“The plan isn’t just about a building or a strategy, it’s about people. We can’t categorize every unhoused person in our community and think one form of resource will help them all. The goal is to identify the help they need to be productive members of our society. If they choose not to utilize these resources, we have to send a clear message, there will be consequences for choosing to live on these streets,” Llanez concluded.