The Hollister City Council unanimously approved a supplemental appropriation not to exceed $250,000 to the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency for the Homeless Opportunities Meals and Empowerment (H.O.M.E.) Resource Center, or homeless shelter, at its April 20 meeting.
The shelter can house a maximum of 50 people, with 28 beds for men and 22 for women in separate sleeping areas. All guests receive three meals a day and access to shower and laundry facilities, a computer lab, and other support services. The 2019 homeless count in San Benito County tallied 283 individuals, down almost half from the 2017 survey which counted 527.
Enrique Arreola, deputy director of the health and human services agency, briefed the council on how the shelter had been funded and why it needed to continue. The county has worked with the Homeless Service Providers Committee—composed of local elected officials and organizations for the homeless as part of the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers—and the city of Hollister for over five years, he said. As a recipient of Community Development Block grant funding in 2014 and 2016, San Benito County received $3 million for the acquisition and rehabilitation of the H.O.M.E. Resource Center, which has been operational since Dec. 1, 2017.
Arreola explained that there remains a need for ongoing, diversified financial resources for shelter operations. He said the county is working to identify and secure such funding and is again asking Hollister to do the same. The city contributed $130,000 to the 2017 operating budget of $617,000. In 2019, council members took no action to contribute any funds, which forced the county to assume the entire operating cost of over $600,000.
Arreola said that even though the county has managed to raise about $1.9 million this year, the H.O.M.E. Resource Center still needs Hollister’s support, particularly because the shelter-in-place order has necessitated keeping it open 24 hours a day.
Arreola said the shelter will remain open full-time until the health order is lifted. With an average attendance of 44 people a day, Arreola said those individuals would be roaming the streets and parks if the shelter wasn’t operational.
“We’ve been active and right now our need is about $450,000,” he said. “I think it’s important that the city prioritize future funds. The city is submitting the public service application and $250,000 is being earmarked for that. Right now, we don’t have day services. Having that resource will help our homeless population to be engaged during the day.”
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir wanted to know more about the proposed day services. She pointed out that her district includes several parks and the downtown area where homeless people congregate. She questioned if day services would actually help keep the homeless out of the parks and downtown.
“Does that give me more say-so about having someone vacated from Dunne Park?” she asked. “They should never be dropped off or picked up at a city park. It’s a dire situation. I have empathy for the homeless, but I also have empathy for people having to live across the street from the parks.”
Arreola said the solution requires a full partnership between the county and city.
“If we have these services we’ll have 50 homeless individuals remain at the shelter,” he said. “Once the shelter-in-place order is lifted we’ll go back to our system we’ve had for two and a half years: at 8 a.m. they get transported back to different areas within the city, then at 4 p.m. they get picked up. It makes sense to keep them at the shelter in an environment that is structured with supportive staff that enhances their well-being, keeps them sober, and more employable.”
Councilman Rolan Resendiz said with the pandemic it was important to help vulnerable populations, particularly children, senior citizens, and the homeless. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez thanked Arreola for “sticking with it.”
Though Spencer said she was concerned about the amount being asked for because of the ongoing shelter-in-place order that has closed most small businesses in the city, she voted to approve the funding after comments from other council members.
“Two-hundred and fifty-thousand right now is a lot of money during a health crisis,” Spencer said. “The people of our community need help too. We really need to look at the future. Your program is amazing, but we are going to be in another crisis after this one has lifted. We need to think about everybody and not just the homeless.”
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