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Professionals from the Ventura County Backpack program visit a homeless individual at the River Bottom. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Friday, August 20, 2021

By Chris Frost

Tri County Sentry

Oxnard-- Ventura County Medical Professionals, along with homeless outreach professionals, the Ventura County Sherriff’s office, and Oxnard Police Department were in the river bottom, Monday, August 16, offering humanitarian aid to the homeless.


The team offered a myriad of aid, including housing, mental health services, healthcare, and Veteran services. 


Supervisors LaVere and Ramirez, along with District 2 and District 1 council members Gabe Teran and Bert Perello, have heard concerns from the community about encampments in the Santa Clara river bottom.


"We're here with the County of Ventura, and they have a crew that goes out with backpack supplies to provide service to those who are living out there but also see what services they need," Teran said. "We're starting to look long term, and what are we going to do about this."


He noted that having these people at the river bottom is not a sustainable situation.


"These are human beings who have needs and challenges," he said. "It's incumbent on us to be able to support everybody, including them."


Teran said the situation has been an issue since before he was appointed to the council.


"The big issue is we're working downstream without getting to the root issue," he said. "That's what we're looking at right now."


LaVere said the backpack medicine program has been going on since the onset of the pandemic.


"I do it on a monthly basis, and they change locations depending on where the various encampments are," he said. "Last month, we were in Santa Clara, on the Ventura said, and this month, we're doing it on the Oxnard side."


The team traveled into the river bottom on a mission to help.


"We're trying to get them out of this situation and get them into more stable housing and get them the services they need," he said. "It's an outreach effort."


LaVere said many of the professionals who go into the river bottom have specialized training that builds trust among the homeless.


"A lot of the individuals know these people and have built relationships," he said. "It's not always successful. There are still a lot of people who are service resistant. They (the county) do provide help and connect people with whatever they need." 


LaVere said there is no timeline to measure success.


"It's a continuing effort," he said. "We have to keep working on the problem. It's not going away, so we have to keep fighting."


Ventura County Assistant Sheriff for Operations Chris Dunn and other deputies were accompanied by the Oxnard Police Department members, who made sure the area was safe for the backpack staff.


"We have three people from the sheriff's office and three from the Oxnard P.D.," he said. "Then we have all the behavioral health and medical support."


He said they were ready to handle any medical emergency. Occasionally, Dunn said things get confrontational.


"Generally, our presence down here is pretty regular," he said. "Our deputies know the main players down here at the river bottom, and they have mutual respect. It goes a long way towards diffusing any potential problems." 


With the group providing humanitarian aid for the homeless, he said that accelerates the level of trust between the two groups with fewer visits.


"For us, we're here for humanitarian and safety issues, so it doesn't take that many interactions to get them to understand why we're there, and we're there for the stated purposes," he said. "If there is a crime taking place, then we have a duty, but generally, we're here to support the teams going in to provide them with humanitarian aid."


Former Oxnard Pro Tem and District 2 Councilwoman and current District 5 Supervisor Carmen Ramirez came out to support LaVere in his district and said they're trying to mitigate chronic homelessness, along with helping newly unhoused people because of Covid-19 and the economic crisis that swept through the area.


"We need more housing and services for people," she said. "We're out here to assess the situation."


It was her first trip to the river bottom, but she's been told that people have lived in the area for many years.


"They need services, but I'm very concerned about the weather and the potential rain coming and washing people away," she said. "I've seen this river come up to the train tracks. "We have to get the right resources here, and we have to get the community to understand. We'd like to have resources, but it's not available. We have to invest in these resources like we did in the City of Oxnard when I was there. It's going to be a really good thing for people."


Ventura County Ambulatory Care Clinical Nurse Manager Matthew Tufte has a full backpack and was ready to administer aid.


"We're going to do some immunizations if anybody requires them or asks for any," he said. "We won't be doing Covid vaccinations, but we'll be doing tetanus, flu, and those basic immunizations."


This is his 30th trip into the area, and he said the situation remains the same at the river bottom. 


"We've done more improvements in other areas, but at this particular site, we haven't decreased the population here," he said. "We've reached a lot of clients here, but when you move people out, sometimes other people move in."