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Homeless Hit With Record Citations

Police: Ventura authorities say stepped-up enforcement has curbed public drunkenness, illegal camping downtown.


VENTURA — More than a year after announcing a major revitalization of downtown and a crackdown on the city's homeless population, police say they have made a serious dent in combating public drunkenness and illegal camping.

On Friday, Assistant Chief Pat Miller said officers on the city's west side issued a record number of citations involving these same offenses during the first nine months of the year.

"We get phone calls all the time from downtown merchants complaining about loitering and the homeless," Miller said. "We are writing more citations than ever."

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, police said, 411 citations were issued for drinking in public and 264 for public drunkenness in Ventura. Also, 94 citations were issued for illegal camping.

Of those citations, 89% involved homeless people west of Seaward Avenue, Ventura Police Sgt. Randy Janes said.

"At the beginning of the year, there was a noticeable influx of [homeless] folks," said Debbie Giles, a Downtown Community Council board member who works in an office at California and Santa Clara streets. But now, she said, "from the corners where I'm walking, I'm definitely seeing a change."

Miller credits the decrease in problems caused by vagrants to an increase in foot and bicycle patrols, regularly scheduled raids on Ventura River bottom encampments and a desire by residents to help solve problems.

This past summer, two bicycle officers patrolled the downtown and beach areas daily, whereas patrols during the summer of 1997 were limited to weekends and special events, Miller said.

Sweeps of river-bottom sites where the homeless often camp occurred sporadically in past years but are now a monthly routine by officers on foot and horseback who are assisted by city street and parks department workers, Miller said.

Giles, who is also director of communications for the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau, says meetings between business owners and police have also helped.

Also, she said, a majority of downtown business owners are displaying signs that advise: "Just say no to panhandling."

Brochures on how to rebuff panhandlers are also available at the bureau.

Miller said stepped-up police enforcement downtown will continue--especially with the recent opening of a four-story parking garage and the pending debut of a multiscreen movie theater--but that homeless issues need to be addressed further.

"This is not just a police issue, it's a countywide issue," Miller said.

Clyde Reynolds, executive director of Turning Point, a nonprofit mental health agency that serves the homeless population, said hopes of expanded options for his clientele, including longer hours and added help at various facilities, are not occurring.

Last month city officials decided to turn over to the county part of the responsibility of funding alcohol and drug programs for the city's homeless, Reynolds said.

"It's kind of ironic that as police are stepping up their enforcement, the city has made a recommendation not to fund programs for the homeless," Reynolds said.

"The city, we believe, also has a responsibility to fund their share," he said.

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