Good things have been happening in Del Norte County, mainly as a result of our community leaders working hard at working together.
Though little publicized, the Weakening Economy (WE) Workgroup is a fine semblance thereof. Essentially an ad hoc committee put together in response to the national, state and regional economic crises, the ambition of WE is to mitigate the impact of this crisis locally by creating and then executing safety-net strategies for the most vulnerable among us.
Composed of the Wild Rivers Community Foundation, the Del Norte Department of Health & Human Services, the County of Del Norte, the City of Crescent City, the Del Norte Senior Center, the Del Norte Child Care Council, First 5 Del Norte, Rural Human Services, the Del Norte Healthcare District, the Boys & Girls Club of the Redwoods, The California Endowment, the Del Norte Unified School District, and Community Assistance Network (CAN), to date the work group has focused on deploying a series of mobile food, clothing, hygienic and literacy events in diverse locations throughout our county.
WE has been so effective in its efforts that it has become something of a showpiece — catching the attention of nonlocal groups who have come to observe us in action, just to see how we do what we do — with an emphasis on how we, as diverse agencies, work so well together.
The nonprofit, foundation, and government executives who compose WE have succeeded in something subtle but significant — moving from competition to collaboration, and from bickering to bettering. Such a move, I believe, is a prime reason Del Norte was tapped by The California Endowment (TCE) as one of the few communities in California who gained TCE’s 10-year funding commitment via its Building Healthy Communities initiative. TCE was looking for communities who were not only needy, but sufficiently cohesive, collaborative, and forward-thinking.
In fact, it was WE and its functionality which was a partial prompt for CAN to apply for and recently win the $1.6 million dollar Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) grant from the California Department of Housing & Community Development.
As adequate housing is clearly a safety-net issue, it was always one of the primary concerns of WE. But up to the time of winning HPRP, the housing support which could be offered locally to either the homeless or those at-risk of becoming homeless was very limited. Local nonprofit and government groups could supply limited emergency stays in motels, sometimes help with utility payments, periodic rental eviction prevention, and do some housing rehabilitation (for those whose homes were deemed substandard), but that was about it. The money to help with these housing issues was simply very limited.
All this is now in the process of changing. HPRP represents more monetary resources than our area has ever seen on this issue. While CAN won the HPRP grant several months ago, we just recently gained access to the money. In the meantime CAN has been busy developing in-house plans, protocols, and policies, along with conferring with our many partners about the same.
HPRP is, then, another semblance of the remarkable collaboration going on in Del Norte, as it is a partnership grant. CAN is the lead agency, but we have put the grant and the program together in direct partnership with five other agencies. All but one of these partners — a collaborative of churches — are WE participants.
While HPRP is only a three-year grant, we are confident that money will be won to sustain the overall effort for even longer. Even so, between now and the end of this grant program, September 2012, we will end up housing a high percentage of eligible beneficiaries within our county.
Who then constitute eligible beneficiaries? Virtually any family or individual who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, and who have a genuine desire to become or remain housed. The big exception, as explained in my last commentary (The Daily Triplicate, Dec. 30, 2009), are the willfully irresponsible and the willfully homeless.
What specific types of assistance can be provided through HPRP? Short-term and medium-term rental assistance, catching up on past-due rent, security deposits, utility deposits, utility payments, moving costs, motel vouchers, life skills and tenant training and counseling, housing search and placement, mediation and outreach to property owners, and credit repair — all on an as-needed basis as determined by client evaluation and screening.
Folks interested in exploring their eligibility for housing assistance through this program are encouraged to call CAN at 707-464-9190.
Lastly, please extend a word of gratitude to the executives of the local agencies mentioned above for their willingness to lay down swords and pick up plowshares, and for their diligent work in seeking to meet the safety-net needs of our fine community — a community in the process of becoming even finer.
Douglas C. Morgan is executive director of the Community Assistance Network.