Elani Austin says encounters with homeless people in Palm Springs are becoming the norm, like the one her wife had a couple of days ago inside a liquor store on Palm Canyon Drive.
“There was a guy in front of her clearly a homeless person gesturing madly and screaming at the guy at the counter … the guy behind the counter said, ‘If you hadn’t have been here I don’t know what would have happened, I don’t know if he would have attacked him or what’.”
She says that’s just the tip of the iceberg, “Across the street from Rite Aid one of my friends got knocked over right after Christmas, her purse got ripped away from her, she hurt her elbow,” says Austin adding that she’s afraid when she goes out to do laundry or walk her dog because of other experiences she’s had doing everyday tasks, “everywhere I look there’s homeless people.”
And she’s not the only one who says they’re scared to bein their own neighborhood.
“I’m real afraid, when you get accosted walking to your car when you don’t give a homeless person money and they followed my all the way to my car … I’m an elder I’m not a young person who can easily run from these people,” said another Palm Springs resident who did not want to be identified adding, “the problem is getting these people off the streets not just into a hotel, but getting them into a treatment center getting them into a mental health facility.”
Christinher, who stays at the Hyatt and is a long time Palm Springs resident says it’s out of control, “We kind of make it convenient for them … we have someone that goes there and they bathe … and they will not stop the person from bathing and washing their clothes … they have someone sleeping inside the ventilation system and … and they’re not doing nothing,” adding it’s dangerous.
Austin says she’s tired of politicians who make promises and then don’t show results, instead of getting better it’s getting worse, “I know they got a bunch of money and I don’t see where it’s done any good.”
The Palm Springs City Manager Justin Clifton says he gets it, “Not only do I manage the city here but I live in the city with my wife and my two young kids so I share some of the concerns both from a humanitarian perspective because these are human beings … and then I also understand that people also want to feel safe their community, and so it’s really a tough issue to navigate … it’s a national issue, it’s worsening nationally, so we are certainly part of those trends, the pandemic did not make things easier in fact it made things harder.”
He says when it comes down to it the solution is housing and they did work hard to secure a $10 million grant last year to build housing and two housing projects have been approved that include health resources but this will not happen overnight.
“It takes time to build them right so they’re still in the early stages of development design and then ultimately construction the remaining funds will be set aside primarily for other long term housing first time solutions that could include other wrap around services,” says Clifton.
He says in addition to that they’re hiring a person to focus on homeless and housing and partnering with non profits like Martha’s Village and Kitchen who are now running a temporary shelter.
” We’ve actually had a lot of success in partnership with our police officers on the ground identifying some of the people in most dire need services and getting them plugged in and they’re actually finding them housing opportunities”
Martha’s Village and Kitchen president Linda Barrack, who has been working to help the homeless population for decades says it’s easy to point fingers and judge people on the street, “And I walk in everyday to situations with vast numbers of homeless am I afraid no,” she says adding that they’re just people who act out like the rest of the population, and there’s good and bad actors.
She says her non profit has an 85 percent success rate in housing the homeless because the outreach and services they provide work. She says the pandemic and lack of affordable housing have created the perfect storm.
She says the numbers of homeless in the West Valley have increased because in recent years places for them to go have been taken away and cities and residents need to work together to provide services and the not in my back yard mentality has got to go, still she understands the frustration.
“I don’t blame them the planning in earnest has to be accelerated, they need to sit down and design the dream the community needs to be part of the solution nimby is a tough thing to overcome but to overcome it we need a space to provide these services … when the homeless are in shelter the staff knows what they’re doing and where they are without shelter without people knowing what’s going on you have what you have.”