Concord continues to tackle homeless issues

The growing number of individuals living on streets, in parks and under freeway overpasses has become a hot topic in the Bay Area, elsewhere in California and across the country.

While attendees came to discuss a variety of issues at my February Coffee with the Mayor, the topic of collective concern was the increasing number of people living on the street in Concord. For this reason, I want to share information as to why residents are seeing more homeless individuals and what my City Council colleagues and I are doing to address this situation.

Concord is one of only two cities in all of Contra Costa County that has a full-service homeless shelter serving both men and women. Because of Concord’s central location and the presence of this homeless shelter, the county Health Services’ Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services, which administers programs to serve the homeless, continues to locate mental health, substance abuse treatment and other homeless services within our city limits. The shelter and the concentration of support services makes Concord a more attractive place for homeless individuals throughout Central Contra Costa County to locate.

East County issues

Even though East County has seen the greatest uptick in homeless individuals, they do not have a full-service homeless shelter. As a result, the Concord Shelter has been serving not only the homeless of Central County, but also the increasing number of homeless individuals from East County.

I have spoken on several occasions with City Council members from cities in East County and with county Supervisor Karen Mitchoff about encouraging East County to move forward with plans to build a full-service homeless shelter on a site that has been identified for this purpose.

In the meantime, Concord has been partnering with Walnut Creek since 2017 to fund an outreach worker to help homeless individuals access medical care, mental health counseling and other services. This is one of the Coordinated Outreach, Referral and Engagement (CORE) teams working under the county Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services.

The CORE team visits homeless camps and shelters to connect individuals to substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, case managers, medical care, benefit counselors, temporary shelter, housing and other services. Unfortunately, many of the individuals the CORE team encounters are not interested in accepting services or treatment due to mental illness and/or drug addiction.

Addressing the pet problem

For those interested in receiving services, there are two barriers that discourage homeless individuals from coming off the street and into a shelter. There is often a distrust of others and fear of the theft of one’s personal belongings at shelters. For some, a dog is their most trusted companion, so they are unwilling to enter a shelter that does not welcome animals.

That could change if Senate Bill 258 passes. It would empower shelters to take in individuals experiencing homelessness who also have pets by awarding grants to qualified homeless shelters for the provision of shelter, food and basic veterinary services for pets. (See

In November 2018, the Concord City Council declared a “shelter emergency” to be eligible for one-time Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funding. Based on feedback from the CORE team and Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger regarding how these funds could make the greatest impact, the City Council directed that they be used to build lockers so the homeless can store their belongs during their shelter stay, to build kennels so dogs can be welcomed into the shelter, to make 30 additional shelter beds available and to keep the shelter open seven days a week.

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Carlyn Obringer