The soon-to-be neighbors of a planned homeless services center in the north end of Palm Springs had a third chance to speak directly to the people involved in the decision-making Wednesday evening. Similar to previous meetings, the event format and community frustrations were top of mind.
The meeting was designed to mitigate concerns over placement of a homeless navigation center on a 3.6-acre industrial site off McCarthy Road in northern Palm Springs. It was the third different format and marked the first meeting offered on Zoom. Public speakers who tuned in said the city did not adequately communicate the date and time of the meeting. At least two said they had only logged on a few minutes after hearing about it on the local evening news.
“You’ve got a problem as far as public involvement,” Rev. Shelley Somerville told organizers. “I wonder if this is more evidence for why there are not more people at these meetings — most people don’t know one is happening.”
So few people spoke in the meeting that the seven public speakers were outnumbered by consultants and officials from City Hall, Riverside County, the Palm Springs Police Department, and Martha’s Village and Kitchen, which will operate the facility.
Some residents who spoke also seemed confused by the meeting format after they asked questions that officials did not answer.
A consultant clarified, “All of tonight’s questions will be posted on the city’s homeless navigation center web page. They will be answered as soon as possible, probably by the end of next week.”
Despite the sparse attendance, the residents who did speak echoed what other public commenters have said in previous meetings, held in early and mid-March. They expressed frustration and exasperation with feeling locked out of the decision-making process for the center that is set to open sometime in the middle of next year.
After asking several questions in rapid succession about where the homeless people are coming from, whether or not sexual predators will be vetted, and whether or not the city will employ community members to staff the facility, Gloria Thompson said point-blank, “I’m asking questions, but I’m not getting any answers on this homeless shelter that’s going to be run across the street from where I grew up and where I still have nieces and nephews.”
Linda Barrack, president and CEO of Martha’s Village and Kitchen, responded to some of Thompson’s questions, stating that homeless people who utilize services at the center will be thoroughly vetted. Barrack also added that her organization is looking forward to hiring community members. Anyone interested should check the organization’s website after May 2 for information on the open positions and hiring process.
“It is my hope that we will find people from the community that choose to select employment in the fields of service to those in need,” Barrack said. “Full training will be given to work with the homeless and those that need the services. It takes a good heart and a good mind and sometimes a strong back to do this work.”
City manager Justin Clifton appeared to sense the frustration from the commenters. He spoke frankly for about eight minutes, breaking the more formal demeanor of some of the officials in previous meetings.
He noted how impossible it is to make a decision that’s good for the city and also supported by everyone and that it’s easy to listen to criticism but harder to implement change.
“I understand the stakes, and I do not get a bonus for screwing up our residents’ lives,” he said. “This could be my ticket out of here. I could get the boot if this really blows up and Council ends up feeling like, you know, I helped lead them down a bad road.”
He affirmed his commitment to continue meeting with residents before, during, and after the center’s opening.
“To do it the right way is to continue these conversations not just now and until construction starts, not just when construction finishes, but through the early days of our operation. So that this is not simply ‘mission accomplished,’ we walk away.”