Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2017  
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  Homelessness in Richmond
November 20, 2017

What can we do and what should we do to address homelessness in Richmond?

On October 24, 2017, the City of Richmond Homeless Task Force created by the City Council in April 2017, provided a presentation you can view here. The presentation concluded that there is an urgent need for the City of Richmond to address homelessness issues and identified three priorities:

  1. Support and augment mobile homeless services.
  2. Create a City of Richmond Homeless Fund.
  3. Establish a “Safe Park” community.

All involve advocating that the City of Richmond spend more money to provide services for the homeless. Without diminishing any of the compassion that the Task Force or anyone else in Richmond has about the plight of the homeless, I want to provide some important context that the Homeless Task Force failed to present and suggest that there is a better way than the City of Richmond going it alone. We need to collaborate with Contra Costa County because the County already has staff, funding and infrastructure. Click here for more information -- City of Richmond Homelessness Policies and Initiatives by Mayor Tom Butt.

How many unsheltered homeless individuals are there in Richmond? The January 2017 Point in Time (PIT) Count, conducted by Contra Costa Health Services and community partners, estimated that 109 people were living unsheltered within the City of Richmond.  However, estimates from city officials including police and abatement teams are much higher. Richmond Police Department RPD) estimates that numbers of homeless and homeless encampments are much higher than what is represented in PIT count - upwards of 800 individuals and 76 encampments. The Richmond Department of Infrastructure Maintenance and Operations (DIMO) abatement crews cleared 246 homeless encampments in 2015 and removed 53.55 tons of trash from open areas.  In 2016, the number of encampments cleared totaled 162.

The City of Richmond is Already Contra Costa County’s Predominant Location for Homeless Shelter Beds. Contra Costa County has a population of 1,127,000, and Richmond has a population of about 110,000, or about 9.7% of the total. There are 561 Emergency beds for homeless people in programs across Contra Costa County, 311 of which are in Richmond, making Richmond a 9.7% contributor to Contra Costa County population and a 55.4% contributor to Contra Costa County homeless shelter beds.

Furthermore, a large number of shelter beds in Richmond are occupied by homeless persons referred from communities other than Richmond. The result is that Richmond is challenged to care for the homeless population that originates in Richmond because available beds are taken up by others.

Of the unsheltered homeless counted on January 25 2017, 75.7 percent were in Central or East Contra Costa, yet Richmond shelters house 55.4% of the County’s homeless.

The fact is that Richmond is doing far more than the entire remainder of Contra Costa County to serve the homeless. It is time to demand that the other cities in Contra Costa County step up to do their share, and it is time for the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors to insure that Richmond gets the bulk of the millions of dollars the County spends annually on homeless services.

The more homeless facilities and programs we provide in Richmond, the more the rest of Contra Costa County will use Richmond as a destination for their own homeless populations. This makes no sense, and it is not fair, Except for San Pablo, Richmond is the poorest city in Contra Costa County and the least fiscally prepared to take on an expensive burden the rest of Contra Costa County should be sharing.

Richmond’s initiatives to reduce homelessness already vastly outstrip the rest of Contra Costa County:

  • Richmond is the only city in Contra Costa County to adopt Rent Control and Just Cause. Whatever you think of the effectiveness of this ordinance, the advocates cited preventing homelessness as one of the driving motivations.
  • Richmond has adopted aggressive Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) ordinances designed to create affordable rentals.
  • Richmond has adopted an ordinance that allows a limited number of Tiny Houses on Wheels as a pilot project, only the second city in California to do so and the only one in Contra Costa County.
  • Richmond maintains one of the largest and oldest public housing programs in the County, with some 1,500 Section 8 vouchers and 1,000 units of public housing.
  • Richmond has 2,687 Assisted Rental Housing Units, exclusive of public housing.
  • Richmond non-profit Saffron Strand sponsors an annual conference in Richmond on homelessness.
  • Richmond remains among the least expensive communities in Contra Costa County. Median home prices are less than half that even in neighboring El Cerrito, and rentals are 2/3 those in El Cerrito.
  • Richmond hosts GRIP, the Greater Richmond Interfaith Council, which is leading Contra Costa County in providing homeless services. See
  • Richmond is in negotiations with Contra Costa County as a location for a 51-unit Micropad project to provide full-service units to previously homeless persons at an affordable rent.

What Can You Do?

  1. Call 211. Contact Health, Housing & Homeless Services, 2400 Bisso Lane, Suite D, 2nd Floor, Concord, CA 94520 [Map & Directions], Telephone: 925-608-6700, Fax: 925-608-6741

Homelessness in Richmond

  1. Support organizations in Richmond that provide services to the homeless:

The City of Richmond should concentrate on insuring that it receives its fair share of Contra Costa County managed and funding homelessness services and look for ways to collaborate with Contra Costa County rather than establishing a City of Richmond directed homeless program.

Individuals can help by donating money or services to one of the non-profits serving the homeless population in Richmond.