The San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency plans to use $260,000 of grant funding in two years toward a modular building that could provide more beds for the local homeless. Tiny homes are also being proposed to keep staff onsite.
As the county prepares to receive nearly $1.9 million from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) grant to address the homeless and housing crises locally, Deputy Director Enrique Arreola presented the $858,000 tentative budget to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors during its Feb. 19 meeting.
The tentative budget sets aside $60,000 for three tiny homes at the local homeless shelter, known as the HOME Resource Center, at 1161 San Felipe Road. Arreola said San Benito County is looking into providing tiny homes for staff or managers.
“We feel that we need more onsite presence instead of having someone during the day,” Arreola said.
Eric Johnsen, vice president of shelter operator Community Homeless Solutions, said the organization has been exploring the tiny homes concept for four years. He said he has spoken with different cities about creating tiny home villages as a way for people to transition from homelessness to affordable housing.
“The tiny home villages provide that permanency and a little bit longer-term housing as well as some independence, particularly for families,” Johnsen said, noting that jail inmates would build the tiny homes through vocational programs.
Another idea to expand the number of beds available to the transient community with HEAP funds is to buy or lease a modular building that can house 75-100 individuals, Arreola said. He estimated the structure would cost about $180,000. The other option is to lease it for about $3,000 a month, with the option to buy it after two years.
“We’ve had discussions with Sprung Structures,” Arreola said. “They provide some type of durable, water resistant structures that can be used for temporary homeless solutions.”
The 50- by 80-foot structure would have about 10 rooms to house families, an area of 20 beds for transition-age adults (18-24 years) and a third area for chronically homeless individuals, Arreola told the supervisors.
Possible locations for the modular structure include 1171 San Felipe Road near the HOME Resource Center, or the county-owned land behind the Health and Human Services Agency at 1111 San Felipe Road. That second location is where the County Behavioral Health building is planned to be constructed. The cost of renting a space at the first address would be about $31,000 a year, according to Arreola.
“I know they have plans to build [the Behavioral Health building], but if the plans are beyond two years, we feel this would be an ideal location if it were to be available,” Arreola said.
It’s not just a matter of placing the structure on the land. Both properties would require infrastructure work for water, power, sewer and grading, Arreola said.
Rachel Wright was one of two county residents who spoke in support of the shelter, praising how the department’s services helped her.
“I’ve been very fortunate that we have resources like this available and the resource center has been phenomenal,” Wright said. “The amount of compassion and the real willingness to help somebody get back on their feet, get through this situation.”
Wright said she did not know where to go or who to turn to when she became homeless. That changed when County Health and Human Services guided her to the shelter, she said, where she has been since late August.
“Something like [a modular structure] where families can go is a wonderful thing,” Wright said, crying as she spoke of how she longed for her two children to be with her instead of at their father’s home because of her circumstances.
Arreola said that in the first operational year of the 50-bed HOME Resource Center, the homeless shelter served 241 different individuals with the majority being males (170).
According to the 2017 homeless census, there were 527 homeless residents counted in San Benito County. Of those 241 served, Arreola said 50 obtained permanent housing, while 39 found employment.
“I think we have accomplished a lot over the course of the last few years,” Arreola said. “I would say that there is still a lot of work to do because there are still a lot of individuals on the streets.”
A second phase of shelter expansion is expected to be complete in early April thanks to a $5 million grant. The phase includes hiring staff, building transitional housing and a kitchen in the shelter. Arreola said he expects a third phase of improvements to start soon after the second phase wraps up, with eight 200-square-foot units of transitional shelter for up to 24 months.
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