A photo of tents set up on a city sidewalk.
The Palm Desert City Council last week approved a contract with City Net to provide outreach and engagement with the city's unhoused residents. (Canva Images)

The Palm Desert City Council last week unanimously approved an agreement with City Net to provide outreach and engagement efforts with the city’s unhoused population.

“Can I just do a happy dance,” Mayor Kathleen Kelly said about the agreement. “You know, for some years, we strove to accomplish this, contracting through the county’s social services, and for a variety of reasons, didn’t achieve our goal. So it is music to my ears to hear the commitment of a real-time response.”

Social Services Coordinator Jason Austin said the agreement was the result of work done by the city’s Homelessness Taskforce, which recommended that the council consider seeking organizations that could provide street outreach services on a more regular basis.

“Outreach is providing that street connection to develop trust, to be able to address basic needs [like] hunger, clothing and linkage to initial basic needs services,” he said. “Engagement is more direct overall enrolled case management to develop those housing plans to be able to get people off the streets, to be able to make use of housing services, to use shelter services and hopefully get people linked to those treatment programs.”

City Net Chief Program Officer Jessica Avelar-Bruce said City Net was started in 2003 as a community mobilization organization that has since grown to a full-spectrum organization to support communities in addressing homelessness. She said the organization currently has 12 contracts in Riverside County.

“Our philosophy is we are committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness by connecting unhoused neighbors to transformative care and innovative housing solutions,” she said. “We currently are an organization of over 250 employees across the state, and we’ll be adding two full-time case managers to your city with a supervisor to be out on the streets five days a week serving your unhoused population.”

Along with outreach and engagement services, City Net will provide monthly updates to the city through a dashboard that includes data collected by the team about the city’s unhoused population as well as information about outreach and engagement efforts.

“I’m happy to hear about the monthly dashboard, because I know we’re all asked by the community members about the homelessness situation and our progress,” Councilmember Jan Harnik said. “And it’ll be great to have that information.”

The roughly $250,000 agreement will be paid for using a mix of unobligated Opioid Settlement and Permanent Local Housing Allocation funds.

“What’s exciting, I think, about this new potential street outreach contract is that we’re able to use opioid settlement funds as one of the eligible uses determined by the settlement agreements to be able to fund partial parts of this program,” Austin said.

In other council action: The Palm Desert City Council held its second public hearing on the redistricting effort. The city’s first map drawing workshop is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday via Zoom. You can learn more about the redistricting effort here on the city’s website.

A video of the meeting can be found here on the city’s YouTube page.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.