‘We’re running around in circles’: Effort to aid homeless, clean city runs up against those who refuse help, group told
Palm Springs police, a county crisis response team, and volunteers from the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission work to clean up an encampment under the Gene Autry Trail Bridge just North of Seven Lakes Drive. (Photo: Palm Springs Police Department)

‘We’re running around in circles’: Effort to aid homeless, clean city runs up against those who refuse help, group told

Try as he might, Palm Springs Police Department Sgt. Frank Guarino couldn’t get through to the man with the three-wheeled cycle and accompanying trailer piled with belongings that he couldn’t park it on city property or store his belongings under a bridge. For Guarino, it was yet another encounter in what seems like a never-ending battle to convince unhoused city residents to “downsize their property” before authorities step in to do it for them.

“A lot of it is trash, but to them it’s not trash,” Guarino explained Friday during an online forum hosted by Community Partnership on Homelessness (CPOH). “Legally, we can take the shopping carts. Legally, we can issue a citation. But that doesn’t always work well. We don’t want to force legal action on anyone.”

While the city has rules and tools in place to sweep through homeless encampments and city streets where the belongings have become a nuisance, Guarino said patience and compassion are the preferred approach for now. That gentle approach is required, he said, because the few officers the city can spare to work with the homeless population know they are dealing with a populace that is aware of their rights and purposely chooses not to participate in programs that could help them improve their situation.

“We want to work with people to downsize property, not to punish them,” Guarino said before acknowledging, “We’re running around in circles.”

“They’re not legally at a point where I can do (an involuntary detainment),” he said of unhoused community members he deals with at encampments. “Besides constant outreach with those individuals, it’s frustrating moving them from one location to another. They don’t want housing and they don’t want help. I take a shopping cart from them and they walk across the street and take another one.”

“The ones who don’t want anything, they know that they can do whatever they want.”

More help is on the way, CPOH members were told, but it’s still at least a year off. Once the city is able to open a planned “homeless navigation center” off McCarthy Road in northern Palm Springs — itself the subject of controversy — police will have an option available to transport those living on city streets to the facility for assistance instead of merely telling them their activities are illegal or issuing citations they often ignore.

Greg Rodriguez, the government relations and public policy advisor for Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, told the group progress continues on securing funding to not only build out the facility on property acquired by the city earlier this year, but to keep it operating for years to come. The city and county are teaming on the project with Indio-based Martha’s Village & Kitchen, which he said will work to seek grant money for the facility. Contributions from the community will also be welcomed.

“No one government agency can solve homelessness.” Rodriguez said. “We have a very philanthropic community here in the desert and this is an opportunity for them to step up and help the most vulnerable.”

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