Residents and business owners told city officials Monday night that they don’t believe the progress being made to address Lodi’s homeless problem is enough to remove blight and make the community feel safe.
The Lodi City Council hosted a homeless forum at Carnegie Forum, presenting the efforts different agencies and groups have made to remove homeless people from city streets.
Those efforts included funding shelters at the Salvation Army and Hope Harbor, add a full-time community liaison officer and one part-time officer, relocate 100 people to rehabilitation programs and begin the “tiny home” project with Homeless Emergency Aid Program funds, among others.
But the roughly 100 Lodi community members in attendance said those efforts aren’t taking care of the city’s problem.
Resident Diane Cosentini said she was appalled that the “tiny home” project — which involves building five 450-square foot units to house vetted homeless individuals — was costing $1 million that could be spent on other projects to address the transient issue.
She suggested a larger shelter, or finding a large vacant property somewhere in town, purchasing it and turning it into a campsite dedicated for the homeless.
“There are five acres of land at the end of Turner Road at Highway 99,” she said. “Develop it. Put in places for tents, put in toilets and showers, charging stations. Have human services go out there two or three times a day to check on them. A lot of the homeless can’t dig themselves out of their situations. They need more help.”
Cosentini and other Lodians stressed to city officials that they are not frustrated with the homeless who are trying to get back on their feet, or are working local jobs but can’t afford a one-room apartment at as much as $2,000 a month.
Gary Wyman owns a business in Downtown Lodi, and said he and other community members were upset with the homeless who are drug addicts and repeat criminal offenders who continue to be arrested but are then released after short sentences in San Joaquin County Jail.
“They throw rocks at our businesses and break our windows,” Wyman said. “We call the police and they tell us they know who is doing it, but say the damage caused isn’t enough to arrest them and keep them in jail. What we as a community need to do is let (the homeless) know that (Lodi) isn’t the place where they can just come and hang out.”
Wyman told other attendees that if they see a homeless individual violating city ordinances such as the leash law, they need to continue to call police and have them cited. He said if law enforcement is constantly called on them, perhaps they may leave Lodi.
Brittany Johnson suggested city leaders and officials meet with communities like Carpenteria and Brentwood — which are similar in size and amenities to Lodi — which she said do not have homeless living in their towns, and find out what they implemented to stay that way.
“Don’t just make excuses and pat yourselves on the back for what you’ve done historically,” she said. “Go to cities that don’t have this problem. Go out there, put your minds together with the people who are successful at (addressing homelessness), because we are not.”
John Mendelson, the founder of Stockton 209 Cares and a member of the Continuum of Care, of which Lodi is a partner, said there were 2,629 homeless individuals throughout the county, 139 of which lived in Lodi.
According to Mendelson’s presentation, Lodi has the fourth highest homeless population in the county behind Stockton, which has 921, Manteca’s 218 and Tracy’s 155.
Lodi Police Chief Tod Patterson said between Jan. 1 and July 15 of this year, his officers responded to 1,928 calls related to transients. Of those calls, 74 were initiated by officers, and 157 were initiated by transient liaison officers, he said.
Transient liaison officers made 106 citations and arrests, while the department’s transient outreach teams made 476 contacts — often repeat interactions — and arrested or cited 175 individuals, Patterson said.
He told attendees Monday that as a resident of Lodi himself, he understands the community's frustration. However, laws such as Propositions 47 and 57, which reduced non-violent felonies to misdemeanors, continue to hamper law enforcement’s efforts to punish certain homeless individuals.
“In the past, we had people looking to get out of their (homeless) situations,” he said. “There are a lot less today looking for that. Today, we’re dealing with a much more criminal element, and we realize your issues are ongoing, but we are dealing with them as best we can.”
Community members related stories of homeless people dumping feces in their backyards and in the Mokelumne River, or going downtown to eat and having some homeless people use profanity when they are denied food. Some residents even said they’ve caught homeless people exposing themselves on their properties.
Lodi Vice Mayor Doug Kuehne said he would take Johnson’s suggestion to heart and immediately begin contacting the cities she mentioned to look at the models they’ve used to prevent homeless from taking up digs in those communities.
“I’ve had my business broken into, my neighbors have had their businesses broken into,” he said. “Sometimes the public thinks (the city council) doesn’t know what’s going on. We know. I live here, I’m just as frustrated as you and I share your sentiments.”