BARSTOW — After taking a tour of Desert Manna on Friday, Assemblyman Jay Obernolte expressed a concern over the rocky relationship it has with the City Council and also asked for possible solutions to dealing with mental illness on the streets.
Desert Manna CEO and President Darrin Fikstad asked Obernolte for any kind of help after the assemblyman toured the historic shelter and food distribution center.
"Our issue with the city, is they refuse when it comes to funding. They turn us down constantly. Not a dime year after year, after year," Fiskstad said. "We have so much support from everybody but the town. Congressman Cook, Sen. Boxer, Sen. Feinstein have been very good to us. They come down. They are concerned. They truly want to do what they can.
"If there is a key. If there is a way to make that happen, to get them (city) to be facilitating cooperation, we would love it."
"Tell me your conflict with the city," Obernolte said to Fikstad. "It's disturbing to hear there is conflict here. What is the origin of the problem?"
Obernolte was particularly interested how community development block grant funding was distributed in Barstow.
Fikstad went before the City Council in March requesting $146,500 in CDGB funding needed for infrastructure improvements on the vacant Valley Lumber building on West Main Street. Desert Manna plans to renovate the building into a large food distribution center and restaurant.
Desert Manna was one of three applicants for grant money. Real Estate Recovery Mission Inc. applied for $29,000 and the city of Barstow applied for $143,352. During the public hearing, Economic Development Administrator Margaret Carter told the Council only one project could be awarded a grant.
On a 4-0 vote, the Council awarded the grant money to the city for Dana Park to renovate the bathrooms and parking lot.
Also after a hearing on allocating grant money to public service programs, four area nonprofit organizations received $6,000 each. New Hope Village, Barstow Library, Global One Development Center and Desert Sanctuary were awarded the grant money after giving short presentations to the Council.
"Barstow has very divisive cliques. So it's either their clique, or not at all. You can have different groups that mix and match," Fikstad said. "Every year they would fund those people (Desert Sanctuary and New Hope Village) and not a dime to us. And not just us, they don't do anything for their city's senior center either. Absolutely zero."
Fikstad told Obernolte he believes mental illness on the streets started to rise after President Ronald Reagan and the Republicans in Congress discarded the Mental Health Systems Act.
"We see them (mentally ill) here," Fikstad said. "If they are not on their medications, they will come in and throw things, spit, get angry, violent and hit you with something," Fikstad said. "Then when they are back on their medications, they are the nicest people in the world. Something goes haywire upstairs. Mental health is a huge issue."
Obernolte asked if mental hospitals should return.
"Oh, you have to, because they are on the street. They are not in here. We can't take care of them. We are not in that position. We don't have the professionals to do that in the budget," Fikstad said
He said the shelter is just a band-aid and is not part of the downtown problem.
"Basically they say if Desert Manna wasn't here, there would be no homeless. Downtown would be booming. The city doesn't like us. They haven't liked us for years. they don't like me," he said. "if we don't do what we do, you would have some real issues in town."
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter@mlambdispatch.