City officials and police officers shared updates and answered questions at a community meeting about the Dignity Village supportive housing complex on Monday, November 13, at Bayport Park on the West End. Dignity Village, which provides interim housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, is located at 2350 Fifth St., adjacent to the College of Alameda.
Assistant City Manager Amy Woolridge, Housing and Human Services Manager Lisa Fitts, and Five Keys President and CEO Steve Good ran the meeting. Five Keys is a nonprofit that manages onsite operations at Dignity Village as well as case management and resident services. Two officers from the Alameda Police Department (APD) were also present to speak on current crime initiatives as they related—or, more accurately, didn’t relate—to Dignity Village. Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft also stopped by for 30 minutes prior to heading out to a Boy Scouts event.
The agenda included introductions, Housing and Human Services report, APD update, Dignity Village/Five Keys Schools & Program overview, and questions. While all of these areas were touched on during the meeting, several vocal community members interrupted the flow of the agenda to ask questions that, as Woolridge said, may have been better suited for an APD Community Beat Meeting. As such, the meeting took on more of a question-and-answer format.
After introductions were made, APD Lieutenant Brian Foster responded to a question concerning West End crime and presented the APD update. He noted that theft is a regional issue that is not specific to the West Side of Alameda where Dignity Village is located. Since the supportive housing project opened in May, he said, there has not been an increase in crime in the area.
Foster said APD is aiming to address regional theft issues with preventative measures such as increased security efforts at local storefronts. Officers already have made “numerous arrests” for repeat retail theft, he said, and have found that much of the theft at Safeway and Target, two big businesses in the area, are committed by the same people who target different locations in the East Bay.
Another concern that was brought up by community members was the matter of abandoned cars. Foster explained the City’s process for handling reported cars, which includes marking a vehicle with chalk and monitoring it for 72 hours. If the vehicle has not moved by the end of 72 hours, it’s flagged to be towed. As for people living in their cars, Foster said APD takes “a more supportive role than an enforcement role.” If someone is living in a vehicle, it cannot be towed. Cars that are uninsured or unregistered cannot park at Dignity Village.
One man in attendance asked about Dignity Village’s resident selection process. Good responded that unhoused individuals are referred by the county. Residents then go through a vetting process prior to arriving at the supportive housing project.
Dignity Village staff undergo extensive training for leadership, first aid, and de-escalation, Good said. “We proudly hire formerly incarcerated individuals,” he noted. Currently, the supportive housing project does not have an onsite psychologist, but Five Keys is actively interviewing and searching for the right person for the job.
One woman in attendance complained about Dignity Village residents “loitering” in front of their homes on the public-facing side of the eight-foot fence. She mentioned that people often lie down on the sidewalk and that there are sometimes various items surrounding them.
Good responded that their staff monitors the outdoor areas every two hours and that residents are allowed to smoke out front because they currently do not have a smoking section set up within the fence.
“If they’re leaving trash, call us and we’ll go out there and pick it up,” said Good. Dignity Village’s phone number is (510) 871-0876.
When asked about security measures, Good responded: “Our staff works as security as well. We meet regularly about what’s working and what isn’t working. The City holds us accountable. We could lose our contract if we’re not up to standards.” He added that 25 to 30 cameras monitor the premises 24/7 and eight-foot fences surround the housing units.
A man who’d spoken up previously asked if there is anything to be done about the unhoused individuals who “hang out” with residents of Dignity Village in front of the supportive housing project. “We can offer services to those people,” said Good.
“It’s a long process of building trust,” said Foster. “It takes time to get someone help. We’re actively working with people to build trust to get them help.”
When asked what the goal is for residents, Good explained that Dignity Village is interim housing, which is a two-year evolving cycle.
“We work with people to stabilize their lives,” said Good. “We meet them where they are to move them on to the next phase of housing. We help them get employment. Many of our residents are employed right now.”
Seven Dignity Village residents have moved to permanent housing since May, he said.