The mission of Mission Solano remains the same

By Ron Marlette
November 13, 2016

As the founder and Executive Director of a homeless mission, many find it surprising when I mention Mission Solano’s support for “zero tolerance” in regards to the homeless. But anybody who has worked with Mission Solano over the last eighteen years should know that we neither coddle nor make excuses for individuals living on the streets of our community.

Nevertheless, one might ask, what does zero-tolerance look like for the 3-year-old little boy and his mother who are living in a homeless camp outside of town, or a veteran dad and his two young daughters who find themselves on the street because he lost his job and they were evicted from their home? Or what about an individual who gets paroled home only to end up on the streets because, while the justice system feels she has paid her debt to society, no one else does? The list goes on, and the streets and shelters continue to fill.

However, as we have said from the beginning, and our message to the homeless has always been, “The Park is not your bedroom and the alley is not your bathroom.”

Where we differ with some is that we do not believe homelessness itself should be a crime. Nor are we comfortable with telling individuals that if they do not have a lease or a mortgage, they must head to the bus station. But that is because for the better part of two decades we have provided a third alternative to the homeless of our communities. If they do not have a home or plan to leave, they can live with us.

The “mission” of Mission Solano is to provide a path from homelessness to home — from the streets to stability – from hopelessness to hope. Partnering with local, state and federal government, churches and individuals, Mission Solano has provided food and shelter while addressing the immediate and long-term needs of the homeless. We have provided emergency sheltering for those that have suddenly found themselves without a roof or resources, and we have provided long-term housing and holistic care to those that are serious about addressing their life situation and compulsive behaviors that put them on the streets.

While the numbers are significant, it is important to remember that each has personal needs that must be addressed. Our Mission provides personal, caring support through loving, faith-based programs designed to help each person individually. The magnitude of the problem cannot overlook the needs of the individual.

Until recently, Mission Solano provided a center for the homeless to go to during the day for showers, food, counseling, healthcare, encouragement, and hope for their tomorrows. The closing of the Community Outreach Center on Travis Boulevard is part of the community evolution as we explore what works and what we can do in different, more innovative and productive ways.

By providing a temporary place for vulnerable individuals to sleep, eat, and address their homelessness, we believe Mission Solano can say with force, “The Park is not your bedroom, and the alley is not your bathroom. We have ‘zero tolerance’ for individuals living on the street.”

Unfortunately, not every homeless person takes Mission Solano up on its offer to help. Some are not capable of making sound decisions about their circumstances or future. Still, others do not wish to submit to the discipline that we require in exchange for the services and care we provide. Mission Solano is not the guardian of all who wander the streets of Solano County, nor do we have (or desire) police powers. I regularly take calls from individuals that begin with the words, “One of your homeless people is...” I respond with a discussion of the limits of our power and influence over those that live on our streets.

Mission Solano supports stringent policing of those that become a nuisance because they neither have a home nor will submit to the discipline of coming to a shelter. And we applaud the dialogue on how to best use public and private resources to decrease the number of homeless in, and impact on, our communities.

The citizens of Solano County agree on a policy of zero tolerance for homelessness in that nobody wishes for anybody to live on the streets. We have zero tolerance for that situation and will do all that we can to eliminate it. But we are divided on many of the policies of how to address homelessness. Some believe that our services to the homeless at Mission Solano are a magnet, “if you feed them they will come.” I take it as a compliment that anybody believes the services of Mission Solano are so fantastic that the homeless are relocating to take advantage of what we provide. But my experience, and our records tells me that the homeless of Denver and Duluth are not discussing the large shelter in Solano County and plotting a move to California.

Solano County has a high number of homeless, or a greater number of the “visible” homeless, which is what has stimulated the crises and concern. There are many reasons for this, but among these are the mild climate and even our geography —the nearby marshland allows individuals to move between the services in the city and a bed in the wilderness with relative ease. There is also the lack of services for the mentally ill, or affordable housing for those living from paycheck to paycheck, to name just a few. Eliminating a day center or closing a night shelter might cause some to move on, but it will undoubtedly result in more homeless on our streets, and in our parking lots and parks.

At Mission Solano, we recognize that homelessness is a growing concern and problem not only for those that find themselves without a home but also for the community that is burdened with the often destructive or annoying behavior of some.

Homeless people are not the problem; they are the result of the problem. A problem we “together” can, and are solving. Yes, the numbers are huge – and seem to be growing. Mission Solano has been on the front lines dealing with the issues of homelessness in Solano County since 1998. We appreciate the attention of political and governmental leaders to the problems of people on the streets.

When we move an individual, temporarily or permanently off of the streets, that individual and the community benefit. Let’s do our best and respond, not react to this problem by frankly and candidly continuing to discuss how we best continue to solve this challenge for all who call Solano home.

Rev. Ron Marlette, Founding Executive Director, Mission Solano