CALEXICO — As nighttime temperatures dip into the 40s, members of the Calexico homelessness committee are ramping up their efforts to find winter-sheltering options through at least January.
“We’re running out of
time. The cold weather has started,” Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge said during an
interview Nov. 29 in which he discussed strategies to shelter the city’s
homeless population from the coming cold.
Upon being named mayor in
July, Hodge announced the city’s irksome homeless problem would be among his
priorities and soon formed a committee to address it. The first of its several
meetings to date was in late August and it includes representatives from the city,
Calexico Neighborhood House, the Brown Bag Coalition, Catholic Charities and
The group is now seeking
short-term solutions that include asking both the Calexico Unified School
District and churches for temporary use of some of their facilities during the remaining
Ortega said he wrote to Calexico
school Superintendent Carlos Gonzalez recently to get placed on the Dec. 12
school board agenda. He said he will ask for temporary use of the De Anza
Junior High School gymnasium as an emergency shelter during the district’s
two-week holiday break from Dec. 20 through Jan. 5. Hodge said the idea would
be to bring in 35 to 40 cots.
A former Neighborhood
House executive director who now works on special projects for the agency,
Ortega said he had already spoken to school board President Michael Castillo
about the use of the gym and Castillo encouraged him to contact the
In winter 2014-2015, the
school board allowed the city to use its De Anza facilities for a temporary
shelter, Ortega said.
Once students return to
De Anza after Christmas break, Hodge said the committee wants to then get the assistance
of local churches. Their halls could be rotated
for housing for the rest of winter, possibly using a different church hall every
six to seven days, Ortega added during a Nov. 29 interview.
Hodge said he and Ortega would
be visiting various churches this week.
“These are the ideas
we’re working on. It’s a Band-Aid approach, but it’s better than nothing else,”
Renewed City Efforts
Not since 2015 has the
city sought a coalition to address homelessness, committee members said of a
problem that appears to be worsening countywide.
In 2014-2015, during a
particularly cold winter, in addition to using De Anza’s gym the city provided
tents at Rockwood Park to shelter the homeless for about 45 days, according to
Brown Bag Coalition co-founder Maribel Padilla.
Hodge said tents in
Rockwood Park have been ruled out this year, though, as City Manager David Dale
warned of liability issues stemming from the need to monitor the park and
goings on under city-provided tents.
In early 2015, Padilla
and Brown Bag co-founder Norma Aguilar began their efforts to feed the
homeless, which started at the city’s Rockwood encampment. Brown Bag’s efforts
have continued since, Padilla said.
Ortega and Padilla
credited Hodge with pushing the issue and unifying the community behind it.
While exact numbers of homeless
in Calexico were not available, Padilla said the Brown Bag Coalition continues
to feed about 65 to 80 people a day, depending on the time of the month. The
Neighborhood House and Catholic Charities shelters typically house dozens per
day between them.
has steadily increased in Imperial County over the last several years. A count
in January 2019 by the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council found 1,413
homeless in the county. That included 1,225 unsheltered and the remainder in
emergency and transitional shelters.
That compares to 380
homeless counted in 2016 and 1,071 in 2017, according to Continuum of Care
Hodge admitted he started
the committee with two objectives: “mitigate the presence of homeless at Rockwood
Park” and find another place the homeless can “bed down and be fed.”
One success for the
committee to date is that the city has been successful in clearing out
Rockwood, which is in the same block as city hall and is often used for some of
the city’s top events. Hodge has said he
wanted to restore a more family-friendly environment there.
That was achieved in part
by Padilla agreeing to move her daily feedings of the homeless from an empty
lot at Heber Avenue and Third Street near Rockwood to Border Friendship Park at
First Street and Paulin Avenue in October. The committee’s open dialogue played
a role in that, members indicated.
“I think Hodge has been
on it more than any other mayor, mostly because the problem was in their
backyard, literally,” Padilla said during an interview Dec. 2 referring to
Rockwood Park. “I think Hodge is really trying to do something other than just
moving them around.”
While Ortega agreed
Hodge’s committee has been instrumental in getting the various local organizations
in the area to come together, share knowledge and resources and look for
long-term goals, some of its objectives—including more housing—are proving more
challenging, committee members indicated.
Padilla said next up is assisting
Catholic Charities in expanding its shelter to double its bed capacity to 100. Bunk
beds are viewed as a solution, Padilla added, and the committee is working at
being a catalyst for grant funding for that project, Hodge and Padilla said.
“Good thing about this
year is there is actually a committee … A lot of people are now talking to each
other,” Ortega said. “The committee coming together has more action coming this
year … As the committee continues to meet, things will get better and better.”
Brown Bag Events Planned
Over the years, Brown Bag
Coalition has expanded its support of the homeless from simple feedings to
other events. Padilla said she is now planning a community posada, or holiday
party, for the homeless, seniors, childhood cancer patients and disadvantaged
families. She is also planning a health fair for the homeless.
The posada will be Dec.
21 for about 150 people at the Vo Medical Center on East Cole Boulevard, in
which organizations will donate food to feed those attending and provide presents
and take-home food for several predetermined families, homeless, senior
citizens and cancer patients.
She said the city is
allowing Brown Bag Coalition the use of its traffic controllers’ station at
Border Friendship Park for its January health fair. There will be hepatitis A
testing, flu shots, diabetes and blood-pressure screening, and dental checkups,