Residents hoping to be heard about placement of homeless center feel ‘bamboozled’ instead
By Kendall Balchan
It was a community that already felt like it wasn’t being heard, and Thursday night, during a community meeting to discuss a planned homeless services center in their part of the city, some felt like it was more of the same.
“It’s ridiculous,” proclaimed Tiffany Moore, a 46-year resident of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood, as city officials and consultants attempted to engage residents one-on-one. “We were bamboozled.”
Moore was one of approximately 75 community members gathered in the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center gymnasium, hoping to have their questions answered. Specifically, they wanted to know why the city failed to meet with them before moving aggressively to purchase property off McCarthy Road for a planned homeless services center.
Several longtime opponents of building the facility in the neighborhood gathered outside before the meeting, marveling at the size of the turnout, but expecting nothing to change. With the property already purchased, many said the “done deal” was another example of elected officials and city staff failing to listen to their concerns.
“We know there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” said Deiter Crawford, a lifelong resident of the community who serves as vice president of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association.
Still, Crawford and others wanted to make their voices heard.
“We came here to voice our concerns,” Moore said. “We thought this would be an open forum. Instead, it’s more like a dictatorship. …This is directly affecting our community. We have no voice to speak, no leg to stand on. You’re telling us our voice doesn’t matter.”
The hour and a half long meeting began later than scheduled, with representatives from the city and county and a consultant introducing themselves and sharing talking points meant to head off some of the criticism.
They drove the point home that the center would have security, and it would be different than a regular homeless shelter. City Manager Justin Clifton added, “The goal is housing first with wraparound services like assistance for those with mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as job training and placement.”
Periodically an audience member would raise their hand and try to ask a question only to be told by a consultant, “We’re not taking questions; that’s for the breakout session.”
Officials said those breakout sessions were to encourage more intimate conversations. They thought it would lead to more fruitful discussions if audience members didn’t have to shout to be heard in a gym with poor acoustics.
Soon it dawned on the room that this wouldn’t be a traditional question-and-answer format. “This meeting was not what I expected at all,” said one member of the audience. Another added, “They’re talking too much.”
Officials tried to encourage those with comments to disperse to separate corners of the room to get their questions answered, but that’s when frustrations boiled over, with many preparing to leave.
One audience member in the back yelled, “I think you should take group questions! If you want to be a leader, give us 15 minutes!”
Soon after, Shawnda Faveau spoke up from the front row and exclaimed, “You’re not listening! Our community is not used to being divided like this! You see how people are upset. Please listen to us first!”
Faveau, a member of the city’s Public Arts Commission, has been a neighborhood resident for four years. She and others felt the decision to place the homeless center in their neighborhood had been made without their input.
“We should have been notified,” she said. “These meetings should have happened months ago.”
Instead, many in the community were informed when word spread that discussion of the opportunity to purchase the McCarthy Road property had appeared on a City Council agenda in October, seemingly without warning. City officials have maintained that rushing to secure the property was needed to seize the opportunity and secure available funds.
“I feel like we should’ve been the first people they talk to,” said 71-year-old Lillian Jackson, a Palm Springs resident of 30 years who lives across the street from the planned location. “They don’t live in this community.”
Jackson acknowledged the hardships facing homeless people but said, “Why does this center have to be here? We already have so many problems. Why couldn’t that money be spent on improving our community?”
She repeated what many in the community have been saying for years.
“We don’t have a grocery store in walking distance, and we don’t have healthcare.”
By 7:30, the scheduled end of the meeting, Clifton didn’t see it as yet another disconnect between the neighbors and city leaders. He vowed to continue attempting to engage the community.
“We approached this meeting hoping to have more intimate conversations instead of forcing everyone to have only a few seconds at the mic. I think we succeeded,” Clifton said. “It may seem rushed from a certain perspective, but we’ve discussed this in three or four City Council meetings.”
He conceded that the city leadership needs to look at how they can change the format for future meetings. Another is currently planned for March 15.
“We thought the best strategy was to move forward,” Clifton said. “I’ll circle back with my team and try to find ways to meet the community’s expectations. We’ll be trying to think of what other kind of forums we can put together to fix what wasn’t met tonight.”
POLICE VISIT NEIGHBORHOOD: Palm Springs police said Thursday they were able to speak with roughly 100 residents of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood during an effort to engage them following recent violent incidents. Police Chief Andy Mills said he and members of his command staff went door-to-door in the community and found a receptive audience, including many who expressed support for increased police efforts to combat gun violence. Mills said the northern part of Palm Springs is a “violence cluster” and accounts for 2% of the landmass but 30% of gun violence. Frequent sounds of gunshots alarm residents. Even more troubling is that there have been two homicides in the past three weeks in the community. Police not only engaged with residents but also handed out flyers encouraging them to “Take back your neighborhood.”
SMALL BUSINESS HELP: A Palm Springs-based organization hopes to help underserved small businesses succeed by joining a statewide initiative that provides microgrants to seed entrepreneurship and small business creation. The Caravanserai Project is participating in the Dream Fund Grant Program, providing technical support to up to 60 mission-driven entrepreneurs. It recently launched applications through its website here. The application period runs through March 25.
MORE FIRE PROMOTIONS: The Palm Springs Fire Department announced Thursday that Brandon Battaglia and Blake Bonelli have been promoted to Engineer. Engineer/Paramedic Battaglia has been assigned to A-Shift, and Engineer/Paramedic Bonelli has been assigned to B-Shift.
☀️ Weekend events
- The Palm Springs American Legion is holding a rummage sale today through Sunday. The sale starts at 8 a.m. this morning and Saturday, and 9 a.m. on Sunday.
- Dezart Performs presents The Mountaintop this evening at 7:30 p.m., with performances scheduled all weekend.
- Palm Canyon Theatre continues staging Palm Springs Getaway this evening at 8 p.m. and on both Saturday and Sunday.
- The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters will be learning about bighorn sheep today at a lunch in Rancho Mirage, are going to lunch on Saturday, and plan to collect items for donation to Martha’s Village & Kitchen on Sunday and Monday.
- The Palm Springs American Legion wants to rock you, and will try to do that tonight at 8 p.m. when Habibi performs. Tickets are available at the door.
- Desert Open Studios holds its kickoff party tonight in Indio, starting at 5 p.m.
- Mesquite Canyon Estates is holding a communitywide garage sale Saturday, starting at 8 a.m. Find some treasure on Casitas Way off Mesquite Avenue, between Farrell Drive and Sunrise Way.
- The Palm Palm Springs Genealogical Society holds a meeting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The topic this month is “Using Social Media to Find Relatives.”
- Well in the Desert distributes food every Saturday at 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. at 181 N. Indian Canyon Dr.
- The Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market takes place at 2300 E. Baristo Rd. from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
- The Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival takes place in Palm Desert at Civic Center Park between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.
- Lynda Keeler’s second solo exhibition at Mojave Flea Trading Post — Cosmic Canyons & Cul de Sacs: Palm Springs in a New Light — continues this weekend.