As uncomfortable as it may be, homelessness is part of the story in this great City of Modesto, and the overall number of those experiencing homelessness in this state is growing. Out of the 134,278 recorded homeless in California, the Central Valley has 7,336, the fifth highest area within the state. 81.5% of the homeless in Stanislaus County are in Modesto. It’s no wonder Modesto and its community partners have rallied together to make a positive difference in this homelessness or, frequently called, humanitarian crisis.
Although it is widely understood that homelessness is not a problem easily solved and eliminated, local leaders agree they must do something, they must do something to help those who place the greatest strain on the local services. Stakeholders must do more to urge a special population within the community to get the supportive help they need to cease the cycle of homelessness. A supporter of the County’s long-term effort to combat mental illness through the Focus on Prevention effort, Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold’s desire was to see an immediate response, and to see what could be done to help in the short-term.
The CARE (Community Assessment, Response, and Engagement) initiative was born out of a collaborative partnership between – along with many other public and private organizations – the City of Modesto and Stanislaus County in order to bridge the gap that exists for those who often refuse help and the services they truly need.
For many individuals who are a danger to themselves and others, the current systems of care have failed. In fact, since December 2017, when the CARE team began compiling a list and following the most challenging population, seven individuals died as a result of their own personal struggles. The CARE team was formed to place a spotlight on these critical challenges, and to creatively and uniquely address the need to prevent the devastating effects mental illness has on the most hard-to-reach homeless.
Certainly the biggest challenge in combatting homelessness is working with a population that chooses not to engage; there are services available, but there are many who simply do not participate. The second challenge identified is the need to break free from the individual silos each agency has been working within. CARE was formed as a cross-sector, cross-agency collaboration – made up of government and private organizations, and has been meeting weekly to identify the problems, strategize a new direction, and implement a program for providing care.
The CARE team quickly realized there is currently no integrated strategy across agencies that serve this specific population. There are helpful organizations throughout the community that are incredibly passionate about serving these members of society, but each group must break free from operating in individual silos; those who want to help must communicate and work together.
The team also recognized a lack of systems-level accountability for individuals who keep cycling through the care and law enforcement services. As an example, one individual from the priority population has had involuntary psychiatric holds 70 separate times over the course of just three years. This is not acceptable, and the CARE team knows it must break this cycle of routine offenses.
A recent pilot program borne of this CARE team resulted in 28 individuals from the priority population being contacted; 75% of those signed a Release of Information document, signaling their willingness to participate, and 25% agreed to immediate help. Those individuals will get plugged into a new system of care and accountability, complete with a designated case manager, and will be offered every chance to be restored into the community.
The City of Modesto stands with the County in fighting this epidemic, and applauds the County on its leadership with the Focus on Prevention efforts. For its part in restoring the community, the City will continue to participate in the CARE initiative and the successful HEART (Homeless Engagement And Response Team) team. For the 18/19 budget, the city has added a dedicated crew who will come in after the CARE and HEART teams have delivered care in order to provide the necessary restorative clean-up work throughout impacted areas of the city.
The homeless and mental illness crisis will not be fixed overnight, but this city and its partners, is tackling it head-on. The city will celebrate in the results with the community, and will share the stories of those being helped along the way.
For the full CARE initiative report, and for ways you can help, visit http://modestogov.com/2252/Modesto-CARES