Enrique Arreola and Jim Rydingsword updated supervisors on homeless situation.

Jim Rydingsword, director of the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency, told the county Board of Supervisors May 10, “We own the building,” referring to the county’s planned homeless shelter scheduled to open at 1161 San Felipe Rd.

The county paid for it through a loan of $1 million from the HHSA, which Rydingsword told the board during the April 12 meeting, at which supervisors approved the purchase that, “If all things go as hoped for,” will be reimbursed by a state grant, “which is not exactly money in the bank yet, as some who opposed the resolution pointed out.”

Rydingsword said May 10 that HHSA will meet on May 18 with the state Housing and Community Development Corporation to complete the transaction.

“At that time we will be talking about 2016 application for grants, and they are encouraging us to move forward,” he said. “We held a meeting with over 30 community members on May 4 to talk about how we can begin to work together in a collaborative way. We specifically talked about an application for a new program called, ‘Whole Person Care Pilots.’”

An application for the program, which Rydingsword said is a community-based collaborative approach to delivering services to low-income or homeless populations with medical needs, will be presented to the board in June.

Securing the building was just the first phase of the project. In Phase 2, the goal, according to HHSA, is to: “…successfully apply for and receive a second round of up to $2.0 million funding for both acquisition and operations to be used to complete improvement of a homeless services center project, which would mean an additional $1.5 million for improvement of the site for such activities as employment and training assessment and services and up to $500,000 for ongoing operations and, at this point in time, San Benito County can also project successful applications and receipt of HUD Emergency Shelter Funds in 2016 and future years.”

Supervisor Margie Barrios said everyone has made great strides in moving forward with the homeless situation. Supervisor Anthony Botelho commented that Rydingsword’s report was informative and he appreciated the linkage to services.

“The way I measure our success with our program is not how we’re expanding it. We don’t want to expand our program,” Botelho said. “I don’t want 600 people homeless within our community. I want a far less number. Thirty percent of our guests were able to participate in the warming center and find housing. I know we can do better and we’re making an emphasis without housing program to find all levels of housing so it will be easier to place these folks. I want to see this thing ultimately go, in the coming years that number is going down. That will be the measure of success, as they find employment. It’s encouraging to see people get off the street.”

Along with Rydingsword’s presentation, Enrique Arreola, deputy director of the Community Action Agency, told the board the homeless warming shelter closed April 15. To give some perspective of the services the agency offered to the homeless, he recounted that when the shelter opened on Dec. 1, there was only one person staying there, but by the end of the month they were serving 24 people.

“The average for that month was 14 clients,” he said. “For January we had 16 new clients for a total of 40 guests being served. The average was 27 people, which was the highest ever for the program.”

He said that by February, there were 50 people being served, which climbed to 55 by March.

“Our staff did a fabulous job,” Arreola said. “In total numbers, we had 3,109 beds for all duplicate accounts. The program provided breakfast, a packed lunch, and a warm dinner on a nightly basis. Security was present for both shifts from the time we opened to the time they left in the morning. They were transported to different locations. Any client who had appointments at behavioral health or other locations, staff took them.”

Seventeen of the 56 clients participating were able to find housing, Arreola noted. Eight were able to find employment.

“We also finished our family winter shelter program, which is separate from warming shelter program,” he said. “From December through March we served 30 families. We collected $300 a month in rent, which was given back to them for housing beyond our program.”

The agency’s Helping Hands Program provided 12 units rented, housing 14 clients. The Rental Assistance Program, which has been around since 1994, has helped 1,849 families.

“Currently, we have 250 families on the waiting list,” he said. “We have grants totaling $680,000 to help with rental assistance to pay for 12 months of rent, based on eligibility requirements. We have a housing support program for our homeless families. At the moment, we have four that are approved that we were able to find housing.”

He said any leftover money will go to other services, including hotel vouchers. He said transportation tokens are available to anyone, including the homeless, and job training for anyone who is ready. Once placed in a home, he said the agency can help pay for utilities too.

In his report to the board, Arreola included comments from people who were served by the warming shelter:

“In the past I never knew of any of these shelter programs. I had suffered a harmful living life to stay asleep. Now I know there is a warming shelter with warm beds, hot food, clean showers and friendly people. I don’t have to go to work unshowered or starved. Thank you for the love, time, respect and donations. I hope one day I might be able to repay you. God Bless you all!”  – Andrea 

“I had been trying to remain clean and sober. Since being out here it has given me the opportunity to stay that way. It’s been a safe place for me and my wife.” – Donald 

“I found myself homeless for the first time. I came to the shelter for the first time with my head down and a little ashamed. The staff was very understanding and didn’t judge me and offered me a place to lay my head and something to eat. No questions asked.” – Margie 

“I walked mostly from San Francisco to Hollister in need of a kind atmosphere and a life and place to be. I found it to be comfortable and safer than being out in the open. Part of a major part of my struggles subsided and fell to the side giving me time to go through my troubles of being without shelter and being fearful of losing all hope. The staff has been compassionate and understanding as much as possible.  With kindness and hope restored just when I needed it the most.” – Justin

“This is an ongoing battle,” Arreola said, “but it gives us a great sense of satisfaction pursuing the funds and providing these services.”

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...