Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

There weren’t enough chairs in the multi-purpose room at Joe Hamilton School for Sen. Mike McGuire’s recent town hall meeting on homelessness.

The standing room only crowd Thursday heard extensive details from city and county officials about short and long-term local goals, and the State’s No Place Like Home Program. Also announced is newly hired consulting firm that will help identify housing models with onsite counselors, potential affordable housing construction opportunities, funding and more.

Del Norte County Supervisor Lori Cowan said Crescent City, county and the state are embarking on a first-of-its kind partnership to tackle local homelessness.

“Never before has the state, county and city been as coordinated as we are now,” she said.

McGuire said his office has been working with the city and county on a plan focusing on short-term emergency homeless services and long term supportive housing, which will have built-in mental health and addiction support.

“We have heard from the community that there needs to be a much bigger emphasis on homelessness,” he said, adding the city, county and state agree on one thing. “The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of providing services, housing and desperately-needed support.”

According to McGuire, the cost of dealing with the average chronic homeless person is about $100,000 per year in county jail and emergency room stays.

“When communities invest in permanent supportive housing for those who are chronically homeless, we’ve seen a 26 percent decrease since 2007 in chronic homeless population,” he said.

McGuire noted when he was a supervisor, his county created a 100-unit supportive housing location in a former hotel, causing dramatic positive changes in that community. Along with an 80 percent decrease in homeless populations, a 77 percent drop in law enforcement interactions, a 45 percent drop in ambulance rides and a 56 percent decrease in Emergency room stays.

Money coming

McGuire said more than $1 million will be provided to create data-driven solutions.

Cowan spoke of former Gov. Jerry Brown’s No Place Like Home Program, which will dedicate $2 billion in bond proceeds to create housing for chronically homeless persons which has mental health and counseling built in.

“Del Norte County will be able to access the funds from this program by finalizing a strategic homeless plan, partnering with a developer who is experienced in the construction and on-going management of this type of housing, and submitting a project application to the state,” Cowan said. “The County will be eligible to receive a minimum of $500,000 and may apply for up to $20 million to support the development of Permanent Supportive housing.

“Depending upon the housing model that is selected, other state and federal sources of funding for affordable housing will also be part of the financing package to make this a reality.”

Cowan said the county will also be advancing $417,000 in Prop 63 funds to complete a long-term homeless housing project.

She said the city and county are working with local nonprofits to find data driven solutions, funded by $150 from the State’s Housing Emergency Aid Program.

Along with goals of expanding outreach, youth homeless programs, criminal justice diversion programs and housing funding, the collaborative hopes to take on homeless related public health issues.

“In order to assist with the public health crisis we are looking at teaming with local nonprofits in order to look at offering of hand washing stations, mobile shower facilities and expansion of clean laundry programs being offered,” she said.

Cowan said the collaboration is creating a strategic plan that will be used in the months and years to come.

Specialists hired

Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said the city and county have been working together for over two years, along with McGuire, to develop long-term plans to help house people.

“This long term plan will be our guiding document providing permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless residents, meaning those who have not been in a shelter for at least a year, have not accessed services, many who have dual diagnosis, and are the hardest to house,” he said.

Hemmingsen announced the collaborative had hired Housing Tools, a consulting firm specializing in financing and implementing affordable housing projects.

“We believe that this will in turn allow the county to access funding to develop permanent supportive housing for those who are experiencing homelessness,” he said. Housing Tools provided three local education forums this week to explain No Place Like Home, Permanent Supportive Housing and the Housing First Model.

Other concerns

Sutter Coast Community Clinic Director Ellie Popadic said the hospital’s emergency room sees about 30 homeless people a month. While they come into the ER for various reasons, Popadic said the staff tries to make sure they have a followup appointment, a meal and basic necessity items before they leave.

She said while some have government subsidized coverage, most do not and staff works with them to see that they can obtain affordable health care.

Del Norte County Veteran’s Service Officer Aaron Goodwin said while the county does have some homeless veterans, the DNCVSO does all it can to help.

Food, tents, and sleeping bags are regularly provided, but the office mostly works to create paths to benefits for veterans. Financial, housing, Veterans Administration benefits and other programs are available within the state.

“The limitation we face primarily is that the VA is not in our neighborhood,” he said. He said travel can be prohibitive for some veterans, unless they use a local program through local agencies.

“We do everything we can to provide them that support within our community,” he said.

Heather Snow, Department of Health and Human Services director, explained her county department is integrated agency made up of Behavioral Health, Public Health, Social Services, and Public Assistance, and conducts a yearly census of homeless persons in the county.

“Each year we conduct what is called the Point-in-Time Survey, where we gather information regarding the local homeless population. Recent year’s counts have been carried out with the assistance of many of our community partners,” she said. “On average, we collect around 175 surveys from homeless individuals each year. Approximately 88 of those individuals are considered chronically homeless.”

Explaining her department provided housing assistance with rent, deposits, and emergency housing for about 500 homeless or at-risk people last year, Snow broke down the numbers.

“Of the 500 served, approximately 300 were behavioral health clients who were engaged in treatment with us, and the remaining 200 received their housing aid through one of our public assistance programs,” she said.

“In some cases, housing needs were identified by public health or social services staff who were working with pregnant women, new mothers of an infant, homeless youth, families with an open child welfare case, or families with a child who has special needs.”

Snow also noted that DHHS has worked with the board of Realtors, which provided funding to help at least 15 people and has had success through collaboration with the Crescent City Housing Authority to provide housing vouchers.

“We need to be working together,” said Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore, as he explained while recently paused city ordinances affect some homeless persons, they were created to address public space issues. He said while government services may help change the path of people’s lives, it cannot be done by government alone.

“If this community does not come together, to provide a workforce to get this done, we will not,” Inscore said. “We need to find ways to work together so that we can reach out and provide services to the most needy in our community and the city is committed to making sure we do our part.”

Public Input

One person attending said he has been working with homeless patients for over 40 years, and urged the community to continue its efforts, saying chronically homeless people do get better with resources and they typically don’t return to the emergency room once in a permanent home.

McGuire said the collaborative is working with the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office to collect data as to the cost of law enforcement services used to answer calls from homeless persons.

Resident Chuck Orton said he doesn’t know what to do anymore, since his building in Crescent City has been broken into and used by homeless persons several times.

Anna Lea said she is disappointed not to see any tribal representation at the meetings and hopes they are invited in the future. Cowan responded saying the tribes were invited in advance.

Sandra Morrison said Oxford House has been housing 30 people in transitional housing for 17 years, adding the road to homeless recovery starts with basic essentials.

“Sometimes the first step is a pair of shoes,” she said, noting that it’s great to have resources and community involvement when it comes to solving or reducing homelessness.

Library board members Lupe Gutierrez and Sierra Schneck noted the library is regularly used by local homeless persons and could be a central location for offering services and resources.