The need for a different approach to homelessness and mental health crisis has inspired the City of Culver City to create a new city department, which was presented at the City Council meeting on Sept. 19, 2022. The Housing and Human Services Department was put forth by City Manager John Nachbar, who has spent months creating the proposal for the department. He was cautious, but enthused.
“If we can get approval this evening … a year from now it will be operational. Six months after that we will know where we are, and [can] adjust from there.”
Culver City’s current Housing Administrator, Tevis Barnes, will be promoted to head the new department. Aramis White-Shearin, the assistant to the city manager on homelessness, presented the report. “We are very enthused and motivated to present this groundbreaking approach.”
The proposed department will consist of three divisions, with resources focused on well being and quality of life. With a requested budget of $1.7 million, the department will include seven employees, with two current city employees being joined by five new hires.
The three areas of the department will include Housing and Rent Control; to produce and help gain access to decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing. This will also includes rent control and tenant protections. Another part of the department will be Enforcement Services, to oversee compliance with municipal code, and the quality of life. Last and most notably, the department will create the Human Services and Crisis Intervention – this is the new division – to engage the community while addressing homelessness, mental health and substance abuse through outreach.
White-Shearin offered “We are in the development stage, utilizing a non-emergency number. If they call 911 they will be referred to a different line. We hope to be integrated into the [national] 988 system eventually.”
Getting the program up and running will take “six months for hiring and development, six months for training and then six for deployment. First phase of the service will have a limited time frame, and then we will look at the times and and number of calls, and will adjust our availability.”
Nachbar offered “We base the number of police officers on their workload. If this is able to reduce the [police] workload, then we can staff accordingly… No one in the country has this perfected. this is ground breaking. We need to stand up the initial unit, and make sure it’s functioning properly. The strategy is to use this unit when we have the most calls for service. We are trying to identify the periods when there might be peak demands.”
People who spoke from the podium were both in favor of the program, and concerned that the funding proposed would not be adequate to meet the needs of the mobile crisis intervention team.
From the dais, Council member Yasmine Imani McMorrin, spoke of her concerns that underfunding the mobile crisis unit was ‘setting up to fail.’ “Every time we have a call that can’t be answered, because it’s just one van, it’s just four people, it gives people [the opportunity] to come here and say look, it doesn’t work.”
Vice Mayor Albert Vera, Jr. offered “We [need to] determine that, once this is up and running, that this is something we can expand upon… there is no guidebook, like every other city, we are making it up as we go. I think it is worth the investment, moving forward.”
Mayor Dr. Daniel Lee, who spent time focused on homelessness while taking his doctorate in Social Work, spoke to the need for health care to be a component. He also offered that “many of these programs use social work interns” and could be another way to bolster the number of people available to support the new program.
The vote from the council was unanimous in favor of the motion.