Mayor takes collaborative approach to homelessness

PHOTO BY CLAUDIA GOMEZ

PHOTO BY CLAUDIA GOMEZ

DOWNEY – “We’re not going to let them fall aside,” Mayor Rick Rodriguez said, and he meant the homeless.

Mayor Rodriguez gave the Rotary Club of Downey an update on city issues Tuesday. Downey, with its population of 113,000, has had from 200 to 300 homeless reported in recent counts. Downey has a household income, and home value, well above the average for other cities in the state of California, and the City Council has been addressing the many faces of the problem.

The many faces of the homeless include the elderly who have no income, and those who have been priced out of their homes; and victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking. Mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse used to be blamed, but today’s lack of affordable housing has brought a new concern.

If you are a veteran, or a family with school-age children in need of food, programs are being put in place. But what stands in the way of many tentative solutions, such as where to locate shelters, is the widespread attitude called NIMBY, Not In My Back Yard.

More immediate and dramatic help, like providing public toilets and showers, and finding parking lots that could be used for overnight parking for cars and vans, vehicles that many families are living in to survive together, isn’t happening in Downey. Not yet.

But in many ways the city responds sensitively to the concerns of the citizenry. The city’s stated mission is to improve the quality of life for those who live here. Keep Downey Beautiful not only picks up litter but immediately paints over graffiti, a known deterrent to gangs.

PHOTO BY CLAUDIA GOMEZ   Mayor Rick Rodriguez speaks at a Clergy Council meeting.

PHOTO BY CLAUDIA GOMEZ

Mayor Rick Rodriguez speaks at a Clergy Council meeting.

Gangs Out Of Downey, the “GOOD program,” is a cooperation between the city, the Police Department, the Downey Unified School District, and the Downey Family YMCA. Our unique contribution to the gang problem, it was originally started by Downey businessman Phil Presicci.

The Neighborhood Watch program helps prevent crime, and the Downey Chamber of Commerce cooperates with an informative Business Watch Program too. Mayor Rodriguez has led the way with a Clergy Council, an interfaith advisory committee that meets monthly, to serve the community’s needs. Downey Collaborative Coalition tries to make use of private and public fund and groups.

And the mayor sponsored “One Day of Service” in April, when many local service groups got together to plant trees at Downey’s Rancho Los Amigos Rehab Center’s central plaza, and then spent the rest of the day in their unique projects. Faith-based groups and service organizations, and Downey is rich in having many of them, are deeply involved. TLC, True Lasting Connections, is sponsored by the Downey Unified School district.

Measure S has its own website to show all the improvements and projects the city has been able to achieve with the one–half cent city sales tax we voted for, from the new fire stations, the remodeling of the interior of the City Library, and the theatre renovations including an elevator to give the handicapped access to the second floor balcony and art gallery. An enhanced 911 system for the fire and police departments is in the works. Parks are looking better too.

And then there’s project COOD. The city has developed the creation of Coyotes Out Of Downey (COOD) a volunteer group. COOD will assist the city in educating neighborhoods regarding coyote behavior, activity, attractants, and recent coyote sightings. The group will also assist with coyote hazing. The group starts with the premise that coyotes have “rights” too, and we have to learn how to live with and respect the natural world.

If approved, the Downey Municipal Code would be updated to prohibit the intentional and negligent feeding of wildlife in Downey. Violators, and that means, those who feed wildlife or leave pet food outside, that attracts coyotes, would face administrative citations.

If you’re grieving for a family pet that was lost to a predatory coyote, you don’t want that to happen to a fellow citizen.

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