MERCED -- The committee charged by the Merced City Council to find a solution to the problem of homeless encampments in the city failed to vote on one of the numerous recommendations the City Council set before it last week.
Like the council, the committee rehashed the problem, its possible solutions and the issues any of the solutions could create.
In its second meeting, the 14-member body, which is scheduled to issue its recommendation to the council April 5, was divided over everything from whether a campground should be set up at all to whether the scope of the committee was too narrow.
While most committee members agreed something should be done for the homeless camping along Black Rascal Creek and in other locations in Merced, that is where agreement ended.
One group on the committee said a single homeless encampment should be set up as soon as possible. One of those committee members, Councilman Bill Blake, who supports setting up a temporary encampment, said any such campground must be regulated so it doesn't become a beacon for homeless from outside the county.
Another group of committee members said they would only support an encampment if there were additional support services set up alongside it, so that the homeless could transition to work and permanent housing.
Herb Opalek, chief executive of the Merced Rescue Mission, said simply finding a place for tents will not address the larger issues at hand. "Just giving them shelter is not enough," he said.
Still others thought there are ample services in Merced. Flip Hassett, the executive director of the United Way of Merced County, said the city should not start thinking about any kind of encampment because there are plenty of resources in place for the homeless. "I would not go for a campground," he said.
Aside from these disagreements, many on the committee chafed at the narrow limits of their charge to answer four basic questions on the agenda Wednesday night:
Is the campground warranted?
Should the campground accommodate the "290" (registered sex offenders) or should it be targeted to other homeless populations?
What funds will be used to pay for a campground?
What should be the city's role, along with private organizations, in running such a campground?
"This needs to be looked at a little more holistically," said former City Councilman Jim Sanders, who is chairman of the committee.
For the city, one of the main points of concern is the law.
In a recent memorandum, Greg Diaz, the city attorney, pointed out that it was his office's legal opinion that the city has no legal obligation to provide a campground for the homeless.
That said, the memo went on to point out the difficult position the city is in whatever is decided, since there may be legal action in either event.
"We're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't," said committee member and City Councilman John Carlisle.
The committee's next meeting is 6 p.m. Wednesday at Peterson Elementary School, 848 E. Donna Drive, Merced.