ANTIOCH -- Sometimes small steps can make a huge difference.
That's the hope of a recently created task force of Antioch Chamber of Commerce members, city and school officials, county social service leaders and charity groups looking at ways to reduce the city's growing and increasingly visible homeless population.
The Suburban Poverty Task Force's first step is to distribute lists of available resources to the homeless whenever police, property owners or code enforcement officers encounter transient camps.
"That piece of paper will help by leaps and bounds. It will help those that want help," said Ryan Graham, Antioch's deputy economic development director.
Another idea that came up during a meeting last week is to get already-existing support services -- including homeless shelters, medical care, counseling, job training, food and faith-based community programs -- to work together.
"It's important that they know that someone cares," said David Gerson, executive director of Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa.
Having resources handy can attract the homeless who want help but need some direction, he said.
The Antioch group is trying to tailor a plan around the specific needs of its homeless community, and the county will lend its expertise and resources, said Lavonna Martin, acting director of Contra Costa County's behavioral health homeless program.
Antioch hopes to integrate some of the ideas that Local Integrated Networks of Care has used in its pilot program in Concord.
Access to more shelter space is something that is sorely needed, said Janice Harrington, a transient who moved last week to a large encampment near Rodgers Point. Unlike some camps around town, this new site felt more secure because there was less theft, she said.
Those in the camp try to clean their area, said Robert Hennessey, who has lived in the area for about 11 years.
"There are some that don't, and it reflects on all of us," he said.
Some simple short-term solutions would be to add some public restrooms and garbage cans, Hennessey said.
Antioch has the highest number of unsheltered homeless in Contra Costa County with 245, according to the county's homeless count in January 2013. That number is a snapshot from one night and can fluctuate, officials said.
The increase is also evident by higher demand for service providers. The Loaves and Fishes dining room in Antioch is the busiest in the county, serving 4,038 hot meals in October 2012, up 27 percent from the year before.
It now averages about 3,800 meals a month, Gerson said.
The perception is rising that the number of homeless is increasing, in part because of a couple of recent relocations of fairly isolated encampments near the riverfront to more-visible locations, such as near the Safeway on Hillcrest Avenue. Encampment visibility has also increased because there are fewer shrubs during the winter to hide their locations.
The goal of the task force is to lend a hand to those who want help by providing resources and make it uncomfortable for those who are reluctant to get help by passively uprooting them.
"We need to try to empower people to change their own lives by teaching them to fish rather than creating dependency," said Sean Wright, chief executive officer of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce.
Job training and a place to shower would help those who want to work, said Mike Gonzales, who is homeless.
Gonzales says he understands that people may be intimidated at the sight of the homeless. The former ironworker says he once felt that way.
"Nobody wants to hire somebody that is homeless," Harrington said.
Antioch's task force is also in the early stage of creating a voucher donation program, both through local businesses and online through PayPal. Giving money directly to individuals often leads to them buying drugs and alcohol rather than receiving help, Wright said.
On the enforcement end, Antioch already has rules on its books that allow it to fine private property owners up to $500 for trash and debris and have them pay for cleanup and ongoing inspection fees, Graham said. That often compels the owners to break up the encampments, he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
There are a variety of services in East Contra Costa County aimed at helping those in need. Here are a few numbers to call. For a full list, contact the Contra Costa Crisis Center at 925-939-1916 or visit www.211database.org.
Children's Protective Services 1-877-881-1116
Adult Protective Services 1-877-839-4347
Alcoholics Anonymous 925-939-4155
Narcotics Anonymous 925-685-4357
BAART--California Detox Program 925-522-0124
East County Wollam House 925-427-1384
Pueblos del Sol (Men) 925-676-2580
The Center for Recovery 925-674-4100
REACH Project--Antioch 925-754-3673
Opportunity Junction 925-776-1133
Project Second Chance 925-754-8317
One-Stop Center - Brentwood 925-634-2195
One-Stop Center - Antioch 925-706-4830
Covered California 1-888-975-1142
Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy 1-800-510-2020
Patient Financial Counseling 1-800-771-4270
Bay Area Rescue Mission
Women & Family 510-215-4860
FERST Multi-Service Center (Anka) 925-778-3750
(Anka Behavioral Health)
Love-A-Child Shelter - Bay Point 925-458-5663
Shepherd's Gate - Brentwood 925-308-7507
Transitional and Interim Housing (Shelter Inc.) 925-778-0298
Source: Contra Costa Crisis Center