Riverbank Mayor Richard D. O’Brien recently gathered members of the City Council, city staff and representatives of local community service and religious groups for his yearly summit on the homeless, at the Scout Hall on High Street.
The mayor offered news of major strides for Riverbank’s work to make things better. He said that, in the past, in state and county plans for addressing homeless issues, the city seemed to have been left out. O’Brien said that has now changed, with Riverbank being scheduled to participate in the latest round of funding, which is helping the city pursue more concrete solutions.
It was in 2013 that O’Brien first organized the Nonprofit and Community Partners meeting that has been held annually to discuss the homeless situation along with programs and possible solutions. The meetings have continued annually – with the exception of last year due to COVID – and the latest was held this past week at the Scout Hall.
“Our last one was January 2020 and I needed to get word out on what we were doing,” said O’Brien. “We purchased a house on Sierra Street and we have a second one that is pending for a host type house ran by the Cambridge Academy called Riverbank Restart.”
The purchase of the new homes will be used to give the homeless population a place to go for a fresh start that would include potential jobs and housing.
“Before it gets too cold and too wet we need to start the program,” remarked O’Brien. “I asked the non-profits and churches if they can help. They all said yes. We have a great faith-based and non-profit organizations here in Riverbank. They responded really well.”
The county had funds that were not being used so the idea was created to start a program to help the homeless and with that funding purchase a place for it.
O’Brien discussed possibly having tiny homes that could be constructed in different areas throughout the City of Riverbank for housing or temporary housing.
“We are encouraging churches to look at their property that they have and what they are not using and see if they can put tiny homes on there for their parishioners or congregation that need a temporary place to live,” stated O’Brien. “That would be ideal for some of the churches and some that were there said that is a great idea and some said they didn’t have any spare property to do that.”
The mayor noted that there are homeless that are not always seen as some live in cars or with other families in a garage. During the Point In Time count city staff along with others visit locations throughout the city where the homeless reside to get a better idea of the situation. There were encampments found that appeared to have children living there.
With the first time home buyers assistance and affordable single family homes being built, the mayor is hopeful that community members are able to have a roof over their heads.
He said, “As we are building Crossroads West there will be some homes there that will be the affordable housing or low income housing and there will also be affordable low income apartments. We are trying to cover the entire gamut. So there are all kinds of things that we are trying to accomplish. We are trying to get those single parents off the streets or out of someone’s garage.”
Through grants and assistance from Senator Eggman adding $2 million to the budget for Riverbank’s homeless initiative, the mayor’s vision is close to fruition. Eventually the idea is to have a non-profit organization take over the program with the city’s assistance with grants and other funding opportunities.
News Correspondent Ric McGinnis contributed to this story.