With Palm Springs set to end its relationship with the only remaining homeless services provider here in the coming weeks, many residents are left wondering: How did it come to this, and where do we go from here to address a crisis playing out live on city streets?
For their part, city officials last week instructed staff to work with Martha’s Village and Kitchen to quickly open a cooling center and showers at the former Boxing Club on South El Cielo Road. Those instructions came after councilmembers rejected the extension of a permit for Well in the Desert to continue operating at its facility in the Baristo Park neighborhood. Elected officials and neighbors said they had grown increasingly frustrated with The Well’s president, Arlene Rosenthal, whose combative approach and lack of adequate documentation eroded trust.
Martha’s Village President and CEO Linda Barrack said her organization will work to make sure the Boxing Club services open as soon as possible. She plans to meet with her board of directors today to discuss how to move forward. Whether Well in the Desert is part of those plans remains to be seen. Rosenthal did not respond to inquiries from The Post following the Council’s vote last week asking about her future plans in the community.
“We can make it happen,” Barrack assured councilmembers. “We just have to come together, and unfortunately we are in a time crunch. Anything is possible. We just need to have some time to do it right.”
The Boxing Club facility, once opened, will be far from the final solution to help the city provide aid for its share of an estimated 1,000 people in the Coachella Valley experiencing homelessness every day. The long-term solution, according to experts who routinely address the City Council, are facilities that provide what are known as “wraparound services” — a team-based, collaborative case management approach that includes not just “day care,” but addiction counseling, shelter, and workforce training.
Facilities utilizing that approach are available elsewhere in the Valley — most notably at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village — but they are located in Indio, 30 miles away. Many of the services offered there were available within the city limits at one time. But the closure of Roy’s Desert Resource Center east of Interstate 10 in 2017 left Well in the Desert as the sole provider for homeless individuals here.
“The day care model is not working,” said David Murphy, a representative of the Community Partnership on Homelessness, who frequently addresses the Council. “It makes things worse by encouraging more time on the street.
“I would strongly suggest a campus approach with comprehensive services with shelter, housing, 12-step programs, case management, and access to mental health treatment. A day care facility should only be part of this, not the only part. It’s time for the city to create its own long-term strategic plan with a city position to manage this.”
City officials, frequently accused of spending more time addressing how to make the city more appealing to visitors than solving issues that plague full-time residents, are open to what Murphy suggests. Recently, they instructed staff to explore a partnership with Riverside County to build end-to-end services at a facility on city-owned property.
That option and more are often discussed during subcommittee meetings. The next is this week, when the city’s Affordable Housing and Homelessness Standing Subcommittee meets at 5:30 PM on Wednesday. Information about viewing that meeting can be found here.