JOSHUA TREE — A group of homeless advocates, youth advocates and Panorama Heights community members gathered at the former Fire Station 35 Tuesday for a community meeting to discuss the future of the building. Owned by the county, it was recently leased to the Family Assistance Program as a day-use facility.
The county board of supervisors last month approved a lease agreement that lasts through April 2024, with the Family Assistance Program paying the county one dollar a year.
The building, located on Sierra Avenue in the Panorama Heights area, covers about 2,760 square feet, including living quarters and a laundry room.
Executive director of the Family Assistance Program, Darryl Evey, said the deal was about two years in the making and was heavily supported by former 3rd District Supervisor James Ramos.
“About two years ago there was a family here that froze to death and James was upset and as you can imagine, everyone was upset,” Evey said.
He said the deaths brought to light some of the needs of the community; these needs might include a warming center, a youth center, a day-use facility for the local homeless population, a day-use facility for mental health services or a combination of these things.
The Family Assistance Program runs facilities across San Bernardino County that primarily work with people ages 14-24 who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. They provide the young people with a safe place during the day to study, learn how to get jobs, escape extreme temperatures and more.
Evey said a similar facility was his initial plan for the former firehouse, but after talking with local agencies, he was unsure if youth services were the primary need in the Morongo Basin. The One Stop Transitional Age Youth Center in Yucca Valley and several other places already serve that population.
The purpose of the meeting this week was to determine some of the biggest needs in the community.
“What I do now is working with young people,” Evey said. “But if there’s a need to work with adults, then we will work with adults.”
‘Put them in
Many members of the audience were concerned with the idea of opening the facility to homeless adults and the meeting quickly became heated when they brought up Panorama Ranch, a residential facility that treated substance abuse before it closed in 2012.
Panorama Ranch was a live-in rehabilitation facility that offered a 90-day program for up to 30 residents at a time.
“When Panorama Ranch was here we would find syringes in our yard or their members would end up squatting in our front yards and scaring our kids,” said one audience member, who wanted to remain anonymous.
“I don’t want that back in my neighborhood. Put them in Yucca Valley where there’s buildings and more people.”
Evey assured the audience that the facility he is planning would not be like Panorama Ranch; it is only approved as a day-use facility, it will not be offering food or shelter and his organization will not be moving people into the facility from other communities.
“Right now there’s nothing for homeless people,” said Wayne Hamilton, who helps homeless children for the Morongo Unified School District. “We’re not bringing them anywhere; they’re already out here. They’re across the street.”
It would also not be a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center. Staff members would provide people information and support to get into rehabilitation programs elsewhere in the county, but would not be able to help them detox in-house.
The facility, if it serves the adult homeless population, will be open until 8 p.m. Upon closing, Evey said, people would be provided with bus passes.
Facility could offer laundry, showers
Evey said the facility could offer classes to help individuals get jobs. The facility could also be open for members to do their laundry and shower. It could also be the members’ mailing address, which could help them apply for jobs and get valid IDs.
“One of the main problems with getting a job is having an address,” said Joshua Tree business owner Gayle Austin. “I think that would be really helpful to the homeless population here.”
The meeting ended without a decision on who the facility will serve, but Evey said a second meeting will be scheduled in the next week or two to present a more concrete plan and answers to locals’ questions. The date and time will be announced in the next edition of the Hi-Desert Star.