The Breakdown of Morality

News with Homeless Liaison Officers’ leader, Sergeant Rocky Marquez, Oxnard Police Department

By Lori Denman-Underhill

When the broken down Halaco industrial site started to be occupied by squatters and the homeless, the empty shell transformed into a haven of crime. Rampant crime overtook morality.

Halaco industrial site before cleanup

The point of this tale is that once a group of homeless vagrants are allowed to occupy an entire section to reside in with no rules, questions of drug use and no limits to sobriety — the structure collapses, literally. The site has no structure itself with no morality. News travels throughout the community of homeless vagrants, and more of them arrive to the site. So there is an increase of vagrants who cause crime. This is a historical moment to be noted and used as an example to other cities, including Ventura. Why is it relevant? It happened right next door in Oxnard last year.

Hitting the streets, interacting and assisting all of the homeless in Oxnard is Sergeant Rocky Marquez of the Oxnard Police Department. He is the leader of the Homeless Liaison Officers, who are two full-time police officers assigned specifically to the homeless. They work together with the neighborhood policing officers and other patrol officers. He is one of the two sergeants of the policing team, supervising the east and south districts of the city and the central businesses downtown.

The neighborhood policing officers work full-time, dealing with vagrancy issues, while also helping the homeless and citizens who are experiencing issues with the homeless that includes complaints of crime. They spearhead the issue of vagrancy by working with service providers in the city to help the homeless. This includes the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the rescue mission, the One Stop Outreach Program and more.

“With these groups, we try to get the multi-faceted problem resolved,” Marquez told Citizens Journal.  “We have a substantial homeless population and we have seen it grow over the last year or so.”

Marquez explained the occurrence of homeless and vagrants taking over the abandoned industrial site. “There was the Halaco site, which was the vacant and abandoned industrial site, which actually was an EPA Superfund Site. It was environmentally unsafe.”

What happened when the entire site, where homeless and vagrants were allowed to live, with no rules? The article, “Halaco buildings become rubble with emergency demolition,” by Gretchen Wenner in the Ventura County Star, interviewed Deputy City Manager Martin Erickson. The Star reported that the “teardown might actually save money by reducing nuisance calls for police, code enforcement and firefighters. Every graffiti removal effort required the city to get an abatement warrant to enter the property. What’s more, homeless people were living in the larger structures. After the latest fire, security guards were posted 24 hours a day to keep trespassers out.” Erickson added, “When it was literally still smoldering, people were trying to get back in,” he said.

“There was initially about 20 squatters there on the site all of last year,” Marquez continued to Citizens Journal.  “Well, word travelled. And then when we arrived to the scene, we were counting 100 at a time. They were in motorhomes, makeshift tents and whatever they could build.”

Halaco site during cleanup

With the so called open-door policy, free for all site with no rules of sobriety, crime spread rapidly. Car jacking, robberies, illegal drug dealing and use, arrests of illegal firearms were just a few crimes occurring at the site. Marquez, the property owner and others worked to establish a Notice to Vacate process. This gave them fair warning to vacate the property and the Oxnard PD and social service groups worked with many squatters to find housing and programs. The property was demolished, cleared out by January of 2018.

“They left on their own, prior to the vacate process, yet some of the people did not want the programs or services,” Marquez said. “The displacement of this Halaco site caused an increase of numbers of the homeless and vagrants in Oxnard. This, in addition to the housing crisis, has created an increasing number of transients.”

This is just one example. David Pu’u, CEO of Ocean Ohana which operates Betty Belts, a female owned and operated specialty fashion retail at Fir and Main Street Downtown for the past ten years, explained.

“You have to look at the history of the problem,” Pu’u said. “A classic example are the projects up on top of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. You put all the people up there in that assisted housing, and it turns out to be one huge, festering open sore of crime.”

More Manpower Needed

As a larger city, Oxnard experiences a higher crime rate than Ventura. Aside from that difference, Marquez said that Oxnard faces similar transient and vagrancy issues. They also experience a lack of man power. Due to the growing problem, Marquez feels that they need more officers.

“Ultimately, we do not have enough man power to deal with the vagrancy issues,” he explained. “Ventura has more, so they have a little more ability to go out and do that. City finances, the long period of time it takes to get more manpower and hire and train another Homeless Liaison Officer… that is what our department is dealing with. It’s a challenge.”

“There are a lot of calls that our patrol services handle that are related to the homeless, so it would help to have more Homeless Liaison Officers to address those problems at the roots,” he added. 

Another Oxnard issue surrounding the problem with the subset of homeless includes mental health assistance. Mental health is a big issue. When the Homeless Liaison Officers are out on the streets, there is a significant number of the population served that have mental health issues of one form or another. While the officers approach these individuals, they are service-resistant.

The Service Resistant Not Accepting Housing

Similar to what is occurring in Ventura, there is the subset of homeless who are service-resistant. Citizens Journal  wrote about this subject in a past article.  Jerry Rice of the Patrol Task Force with Ventura Police Department stated that the majority of the subset of homeless left are those who do not accept services. Most likely they might be the vagrants causing crime.

The old argument by some that the homeless, who many are vagrants, should be provided more services? Doesn’t apply here. Just ask Marquez, who is out on the streets and asking them daily.

“It makes it a challenge to get them services when they can’t be compelled to accept them,” Marquez said.

These persons, as explained by Salvation Army in the article, are described as “chronically homeless,” because they have become used to the lifestyle. When told about this issue, Marquez said, “Yes. We experience the same issue.”

When asked about solutions to this particular issue of service-resistant homeless vagrants, Marquez said, “That is a challenge. I don’t know. We call them chronically homeless because they are service resistant. They don’t want what we consider to be a normal lifestyle option.”

The problem with creating an area to reside in for these service resistant individuals? Marquez said that most of them do not want to live near any other people. “You would find them to be service resistant, as they do not want to go into any specific area that would be allocated for them,” he said.

“If I had the solution to it all, I think I’d be pretty popular,” Marquez said in closing.

 

Prior article on the Halaco cleanup of the vagrant encampment: Halaco Inhabitants to Vacate Property

 

Lori Denman-Underhill has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, Surfline.com and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.


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