Several concerned Lodi residents gathered in Jackson Hall at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds to get an update on the progress of Take Back Lodi and receive reports from Lodi Homeless Liaison Officer Ryan Holz, Caltrans and the San Joaquin County D. A. during its meeting Thursday night.
According to Mark Armstrong, leader of Take Back Lodi, since its inception Take Back Lodi has done between 45-50 clean ups around the city. It has cleaned up the old Long John Silver’s property as well as the bowling alley area at the corner of Sacramento Street and Lockeford Street and were able to pressure the property owner to fence off the property.
Take back Lodi has also done clean ups behind the Guild winery and Maggio properties, and it completed a major clean up of the area south of the Park West Casino.
It has also cleaned the area at the corner of Beckman Road and Lodi Avenue several times and is cleaning it again this morning at 8:30 a.m. In addition to the several clean ups it has performed, it has also managed to collect more than 800 shopping carts and return them or throw them away.
“I feel like we’re making headway. If nothing else, our Facebook page has given people an avenue to report problems,” Armstrong said. “It took a while to get the confidence of the city that we would be an addition to their programs and what they wanted to do. Now I feel welcomed, and we all work together.”
Armstrong gave recognition to Dave Vaccarezza of Calwaste for donating safety vests for the clean ups.
During the meeting, Homeless Liaison Officer Ryan Holz announced that he was promoted to sergeant and would no longer be the homeless liaison officer. Officer Richard Dunfee will be taking over the role as homeless liaison.
“It was a very tough decision when I was trying to decide if I was going to put in for sergeant because this is near and dear to my heart, something I’ve worked on even before I was assigned this position,” Holz said. “I can tell you I’m not going away. Yes I’m not going to be the point of contact person, but I’m not giving this up. I’ll still be here”
Holz said that citizens could still continue to email him with their concerns about the homeless.
“I still do everything I can to help this group and the citizens here and the homeless that want to get the help,” he said.
Holz reported that since his time as the homeless liaison officer he has managed to help 88 people get off the streets and get in to a program, secure housing or connect with family.
“I’m proud of that number, but at the same time, I’m not satisfied because my goal was over 100,” Holz said.
Holz said he appreciated everything that Take Back Lodi has done, and he wouldn’t have been successful without them and the community.
Also Thursday evening, Maria Rocha, a public information officer and customer service liaison with Caltrans, informed those at the meeting about Caltrans’ role in improving the homeless situation.
According to Rocha, Caltrans jurisdiction includes the state land that’s by the freeways, highways, shoulders and ramps, and their role is to clean up the illegal encampments. Caltrans works with CHP as well as local officials and advocates for the homeless when they go to clean, she said.
Concerns that came before Rocha during the meeting included cleaning up the Highway 99 southbound lane between Lockeford and Kettleman Lane and placing a barrier at the area near the overpass at the Turner Road exit on Highway 99 to keep vehicles from accessing that area.
Rocha promised to put in a customer service request to clean up that area on Highway 99.
San Joaquin County Deputy D. A. Robert Martinelli also spoke during the meeting. According to Martinelli, he works with community resource officers and goes with them when they are making contact with the homeless to try to work with them.
He said that there is a program currently in the works called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.
With this program, when Martinelli and community resource officers make contact with a homeless person, and they have a mental illness or substance abuse problem, that individual will be able to get services directly through them. If the homeless individual fails to cooperate with the program, law enforcement will have the power to prosecute.
“ We’re as concerned about the problem as you are. We want to help. We want to be part of the solution,” Martinelli said.
Also during the meeting Armstrong unveiled plans for cleaning up Lawrence Park. Plans included installing a police k9 training facility, two parking lots, a community garden and teaching vineyards and a family picnic area. The park would also be enclosed with some type of fencing that would match the aesthetics of the area.
Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce was attending the meeting and questioned if any trees would be lost to make this plan come into fruition. Armstrong said no trees would be removed for the K9 training park, but he was unsure if any needed to be removed for the rest of the plans.
In addition to Mounce, several other county and city leaders attended the meeting including Lodi Council Member Mark Chandler, Lodi Public Works Director Charlie Swimley and District 4 Supervisor Chuck Winn.