• Kristy Moore

Variety of agencies, programs working to end homelessness in county

By Noah Berner

In recent years, Calaveras County has taken more steps to address homelessness with the help of new funding from the state.

This year, the state has budgeted $1 billion in funding for programs to help the homeless.

The No Place Like Home (NPLH) Program has provided resources for addressing homelessness in the county over the past two years, while the California Emergency Solutions and Housing (CESH) Program and the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) have both offered one-time resources to help homeless and at-risk populations.

“With the prior governor’s budget, there’s been a multitude of resources that have come down from the state level over the past year, so there’s a lot to navigate in terms of identifying what resources would work best for our community,” Health and Human Services Director Kristin Stranger said during a presentation to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on May 28.

Last year, Calaveras County established the Homeless Task Force, an association committed to reducing and eventually ending homelessness in the county. Since May of 2018, and the group has met once a month to formulate strategies to assist those in the community who lack stable housing.

The Homeless Task Force is made up of a variety of agencies and organizations, including Health and Human Services, the Office of Emergency Services, Probation, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office, the Environmental Management Agency, the Calaveras County Office of Education, the U.S. Forest Service, employment and training providers, faith-based organizations, members of the health care community, tribal partners and homeless advocates.

The group has been working alongside the Central Sierra Continuum of Care (CoC), which works to secure and provide funding to alleviate homelessness, and encompasses four counties, Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne.

In January of this year, the Calaveras Health and Human Services Agency/Behavioral Health Services division issued the “Calaveras County Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness.” The plan details the issue of homelessness in the county and puts forth steps to address it.

For some time, homelessness has been on the rise across California, which has a larger homeless population than any state in the country. This is partly due to the high cost of housing. While rent in the state is 40% higher than the national average, income is only 18% higher, according to the Homeless Plan.

In Calaveras County, lack of available housing is also a significant problem. Currently, 35% of all homes in the county are unoccupied, 92% of which are unavailable for rent or sale, the Homeless Plan indicates.

The 2015 Butte Fire, which destroyed 921 structures, including 549 homes, led to a 10% increase in the homeless population of the county, according to the Homeless Plan.

To qualify for state funding, communities are required to conduct Point-in-Time (PIT) counts to identify those experiencing homelessness during one week in January. According to the 2019 PIT count, there are 186 individuals in Calaveras County who meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homeless.

“With truly robust collaboration, we saw a huge uptick in terms of community participation to do the PIT count for this year … The results demonstrate what are more accurate numbers than the previous 19 people that were identified (in the previous PIT count),” Stranger said during her presentation.

However, because of the way in which the PIT count is determined, as well as unique challenges in determining the number of homeless individuals in rural areas, it likely underestimates the number of those experiencing homelessness in the county, according to the Homeless Plan.

The Homeless Plan cites Medi-Cal and CalWorks data, which suggests that the number of individuals experiencing homelessness or have been at risk of homelessness at any point during the year has increased by 35% in Calaveras County since 2013. This data indicates that over 800 Medi-Cal and CalWorks recipients in Calaveras County experienced some form of homelessness in 2017-18.

These numbers include “households who are doubled up, couch surfing or housed in substandard living conditions, though they do not include low-income households without children under age 18,” according to the Homeless Plan.

Almost 20% of public-school students in Calaveras County experienced a degree of homelessness in 2016 – significantly higher than the 4.4% state average – according to data from a Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health program,

Homelessness is found throughout the county, not only in certain areas.

“It’s everywhere. There was no distinct area that had a tremendous amount more than others when you look at the numbers … which again speaks to the fact that we don’t look necessarily like our partners in Amador or in Tuolumne … We don’t really have a distinct city center – we don’t have a Jackson, we don’t have a Sonora – so our service delivery has to look a little bit different here in Calaveras County, because we have very distinct communities that are scattered throughout our entire county,” Stranger said.

The Homeless Plan outlines a variety of programs and strategies for helping those in need of shelter. Some are long-term policies, others are new, and still others are planned.

More than 20 agencies and organizations in the county are currently providing services for homeless, low-income and disabled residents.

Among these are the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, Calaveras County Behavioral Health, Calaveras County Health and Human Services-Social Services, the Central-Sierra Continuum of Care, Sierra HOPE, the Stanislaus County Housing Authority and Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families.

New resources include the Behavioral Health Vocational Program, which will provide services to clients diagnosed with severe or chronic mental illness who express interest in employment.

Calaveras’ HEAP aims to build roughly 10 emergency tiny-house shelters to house those experiencing homelessness as the first step in a scattered site emergency shelter project.

Partnering with Sierra HOPE, the county plans to purchase a building and convert it into 30 to 32 units for Section 8 and Veteran’s Affairs Supportive Housing.

The planned Foothill Terrace Workforce Housing Development in San Andreas will offer 22-25 580-square-foot, one-bedroom units, each estimated to cost $155,000, to provide county residents with low-cost housing.

Five low-income housing units are also planned on a quarter acre close to the Wellness Center in San Andreas to house residents with mental illness and homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The Homeless Plan includes improvements in outreach and education; prevention, diversion, and community services; crisis intervention; affordable housing; and supportive housing.

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