Homeless Service Center plan taking shape

HHSA updates supervisors on condition of services for homeless

The county's planned homeless service center on San Felipe Road will take shape in two phases, starting with work on an approximately 5,000-square-foot emergency shelter and supporting programs followed by Phase 2, which will focus on employment training.

Jim Rydingsword, director of the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency, presented the update to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23. He said that HHSA has identified a six-year funding source for the center — planned for 1161 San Felipe Rd. — to cover the cost of the structure and its operations. 

Enrique Arreola, deputy director of the Community Action Agency of HHSA, told the board that for December the county's warming shelter accommodated 19 new “guests” for a total of 840 nights of beds being used. During January, he said there were 33 “unduplicated” guests who stayed, for a total of 1,256 beds used from December through January.

“It continues to be a well-run program,” he said. “I think this is a resource that the community should be proud of as it averages serving 28 on a nightly basis, providing meals, transportation, and some support services.”

The partnership with the Homeless Coalition has worked well, Arreola said, noting that additional services, such as counseling and job training, are still needed for the homeless.

“That’s a huge need for this population,” he said. “Our current setup does not lend itself for that, but we do provide for the America’s Job Center to come by and do some workshops for employment, but I think for having intense case management and support services are needed and I hopefully once we have the service center we can address them a bit more as we identify the funds.”

Arreola touched on two other programs, Helping Hands Continuity of Care and the Winter Shelter program. There are 13 units in the Helping Hands program, housing 17 clients comprised of individuals and families.  

“This program is running well and we have been recommended for funding for next year, and we’re waiting for the contract from HUD,” he said. “With the winter shelter program, we have served 30 families. There are 134 staying that that includes adults and children.”

The winter shelter program will conclude by the end of March. Arreola said that while clients were staying at the shelter, $300 a month was being banked on their behalf, which they could use to find permanent housing. He said the staff has been successful about 65 percent of the time in placing clients in permanent housing.

HHSA has received funds for its housing support program that targets CalWORKS (a cash assistance program) for homeless families and assists them in finding housing as quickly as possible. He said the funds would cover temporary stays in hotels, provide some emergency services, case management, housing searches, and eventually assisting them in working with landlords. For six months it provides rent, security deposits and assistance with utility expenses.”

Requests for hotel vouchers come in throughout the year, so the agency will provide funds for up to three nights. People in the CalWORKS program can get vouchers for up to 15 days. Transportation tokens are also provided as needed.

“There continues to be a need for homeless assistance and I think we’ve addressed it to the best of our ability,” Arreola said. “Our homeless planning committee meeting is on March 7 at the shelter, if any board member or members of the public would like to attend it or get a tour of the shelter.”

Rydingsword added that one of the challenges of the warming center program is it having to close down by the end of March. He said he had met the day before the board meeting with the Farm Laborer Association.

“They’re very pleased, but they’re going to have a full house on April 1,” he said. “They expect not only to fill it up, but to have requests for additional capacity. We’ll need to work with our community partners during March on how we can move forward. I think we have set foundations with our community partners to run a better organized, although not complete, services center program.”

Rydingsword said it will be a challenge after April to get to “whatever the next step is.” He said the HHSA staff is working with Resource Management Agency to try to identify an operator who can work to support homeless services for the county.

Supervisor Robert Rivas wondered why nothing was mentioned about the budget and security in the update. Rydingsword said the budget that was presented to the board a few months ago anticipated a $155,000 inter-government transfer. He said the agency actually received $171,000 and there was anticipation for a $47,000 contribution from the city of Hollister, which still needs to be “put on deposit with us.”

“We are well within budget and shouldn’t be an issue this year,” he said.

Arreola addressed Rivas’ security concerns, saying that the agency anticipated approximately $26,000 would be needed to cover security.

“That bought us a shift of eight hours, initially,” Arreola said. “However, we felt in order to maintain security for the duration of the program, we extended that and increased our budget to a little under $44,000, with a 20 percent discount for having two (security personnel), so it was a little more cost-effective.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he felt everyone had learned a lot in the past year by running the warming shelter and wondered if there were any figures to give some indication of how many people were being helped to transition out of the program and to improving their situation.

Arreola didn’t have an answer, but said he could provide details in the next monthly report. Botelho said there needs to be some more thought beyond telling people they had to leave the shelter at 8 o’clock, and that perhaps those who want to participate in workforce development or other helpful program could do so at the center rather than leaving and having to go elsewhere.

“I understand farm labor is in need of that space and farm worker housing is very critical not only in our county, but along the Central Coast,” Botelho said. “Perhaps some of these folks wound entertain the thought of being employed in the agricultural industry. It’s not a bad job. It’s a darn good job. We don’t have enough farm workers and there should be zero unemployment in our county.”

Supervisor Margie Barrios said she knew the warming center wasn’t perfect, but it served the purpose, to keep people warm and out of harm’s way.

“Thank you to everybody who made it happen,” she said. “We’ve learned from it and I think this will open more doors for us and leading forward to next year we’ll have a better idea of what we need to do.”

Board Announcements

Barrios reported that she and Supervisor Jamie De La Cruz, as the ad hoc committee for the homeless shelter, met with the shelter’s staff to hear their concerns. She said the Homeless Coalition is committed to working with staff until the end of the season and that the coalition made a recommendation that the county actively looks for somebody to run the shelter in 2017.

“They recommend we start looking sooner than later because it will be a challenge to find somebody who will be willing to do that,” Barrios said. “Their other concern is safety first and both sides are working with their security to make sure that’s taken care of.”

For safety and liability reasons, residents should not bring all their personal belongings into the shelter, she noted, anything left behind might cause the county to be liable because the residents might claim they had money or medications in their belongings.

De La Cruz mentioned a “mini-camp” of homeless being built near the water treatment plant on San Juan Road and said he doesn’t want it to escalate, as happened near the San Benito River on Hollister's west side. He said, at present, there are only a few individuals and that the sheriff needs to do something to prevent the numbers from growing. He also said he had been talking to a couple of fishermen who wondered why the San Justo Reservoir has remained closed. He said he explained that the federal government doesn’t allow fishing there.

“He said, ‘we’re the people, shouldn’t we control what we want to do in our community?’ I said, ‘good point, son, and I’ll take it back to the board,’” De La Cruz said. “I was thinking the other night about what he said and I think we need to be a little bit more aggressive. We had a meeting with the federal government and they basically told us, ‘no, you can’t get into that water because of the mussels. I think we need to tell the federal government to butt out. We, the taxpayers, are paying for it. Why should we allow the federal government to tell us we can’t do it?”

De La Cruz said he knows there a lot of people in the community who want to take their kids to San Justo to fish and that he doesn’t see any reason why they can’t.

“I think there’s a way to do it and we’ve just got to be leaders on this issue,” he said. “I’m hoping to get support from the board and allow it to become a recreational facility.”

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer asked Sara Fontanos, county management analyst, to come forward and answer De La Cruz’s concerns about San Justo. As she came up to the podium, the chair, Rivas, cautioned her not to do so and that the board could not speak on the issue because it was not on the agenda. Muenzer said she was only going to talk about what she has been working on in preparing the topic as a future agenda item.

Fontanos said that on March 8, the issue will come before the board. She said both the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, along with the Bureau of Reclamation, have been invited to attend.

“We’re also working on a tour for a limited number of members of the public soon after that,” she said.

Muenzer said he was happy that the discussion was coming at a future date.

“There’s a lot more to San Justo than just fishing,” he said. “It’s a vital water source for agriculture. And security is another thing, along with the impact it has on this region. I’ll reserve my comments until we have it agendized.”

He went on to speak about a Council of Governments meeting and said there will be a special meeting March 24 to introduce an expenditure plan for the half-cent sales tax for specific projects. He said the ordinance will be considered for approval during the Feb. 24 board meeting.

“It includes a request for the supervisors to call for an election to be consolidated with the June 7 primary election to put the tax measure before the voters,” Muenzer said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get a phone call about the condition of our roads. Some of it is caused by misuse of our roads, but the problem is there has been a lack of revenue from the state and federal governments back to local governments to maintain those roadways. That’s why we have to go before our taxpayers and ask for this additional revenue to protect these assets. I hope the public recognizes that it is our intent to utilize these new revenues to preserve our roads.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]