Government / Politics

Regional coalition to reduce homelessness by 50% holds first summit

Stakeholders and service providers give a progress report.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo opened the first Lead Me Home summit on homelessness on July 14. Alejo is the chair of the Lead Me Home leadership council which oversees the Continuum of Care (COC) for the homeless of Monterey and San Benito counties. 

The summit highlighted reports on Monterey and Salinas, but offered little information on San Benito County.

According to outgoing Coalition of Homeless Services Providers executive officer Roxanne Wilson, COC is a collective body of stakeholders and service providers who work together for the homeless.

Wilson, whose last day with the organization was July 15, said there are 461 COCs in the U.S. and 44 in California. Twenty-five percent of COCs in the state are run by nonprofit organizations. In Monterey and San Benito counties, the COCs are the collaborative and lead agencies in sustaining support for the homeless.

The online summit, which intends to be an annual gathering, drew about 500 elected officials, faith-based, nonprofit and community leaders concerned with finding solutions for the homeless.

Lead Me Home is Monterey County’s  five-year plan to reduce homelessness by 50% by 2027. It was introduced in 2020 and approved in July 2021. The Coalition of Homeless Services Providers initially partnered with Focus Strategies, the city of Salinas and the counties of Monterey, and San Benito to listen to the public, interview stakeholders and report their assessment of homelessness in the region.

The July 14 Lead Me Home summit was sponsored by the Coalition of Homelessness Services Providers, Monterey County, Community Foundation for Monterey County, and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership.

California Secretary of Homelessness Dhakshike Wickrema reported on the funding to support homelessness projects. There’s over $15 million in Homekey funds for three sites in Salinas and one in King City, $4 million in State Encampment Resolution funds for Salinas, and more than $2 million in the Family Challenge fund for Salinas.

Wickrema also cited the $4.5 billion that Gov. Gavin Newsom approved in June for the prevention of homelessness and for temporary and permanent homes.

Homekey funds made 10,000 housing units available across California.

There is also the $400 million Encampment Resolution fund to be released next fiscal year and two more releases of $700,000. Wickrema also mentioned three Homeless Emergency Project funds worth $1 billion each to be released statewide over the next five years. 

Wilson revealed when her group conducted its homeless census in 2021 in Salinas and the rest of Monterey County, the number was 2,047 or a decrease of 15%. This was the lowest count based on the 2019 homeless census, she said. 

San Benito County is expected to release its most recent homeless figures later this month.

Of the 2,047 homeless in Monterey County, Wilson said, 690 were living in shelters provided by the county. Living outside were 1,357. Of that number, 47% were outdoors, 28% in tents, 27% in cars, 5% in abandoned buildings and 3% in recreational vehicles.

Incoming Coalition of Homelessness Services Providers Administrative Officer Genevieve Lucas-Conwell asked Wilson if the pandemic and the consequent deaths and evictions caused the homeless count in Hollister to decrease.

Wilson said, “the $52 million fund slowed down the pipeline in homelessness during the pandemic.” 

She noted that the COVID-19 infection rate wasn’t as high as they thought it would be. At that time, projects like Room Key, Central Coast Center for Independent Living, Housing Resource Center, Community Human Services, and Community Housing Services performed well. And “the pandemic brought us all together” in a way they didn’t expect.

Other aspects of homelessness were reported on by Monterey County Office of Education Program Coordinator Donna Smith, Gathering for Women Monterey Executive Director Staci Alziebler-Perkin, and Catholic Charities Monterey Diocese Executive Director Angela Di Novella.

Smith talked about qualifying children who lacked a nighttime residence. Alziebler-Perkin discussed providing food, toiletries, showers and meditation to homeless women. Di Novella told about the undocumented who were mostly not eligible for cash benefits and usually worked in the agriculture, restaurant, and hospitality industries. 

CSU-Monterey Bay Community Health Engagement Housing Navigator Paola Chavez and her team related their work for unaccompanied homeless children.

Fremont Homeless Services Manager Laurie Flores presented her city’s safe parking program in response to a 68% increase of homelessness in three years. Launched on Jan. 31, Fremont partnered with faith-based host sites in response to its homeless residents who live in their vehicles.

California State Association of Counties Executive Director Graham Knaus said the problem was that no specific government agency is tasked to solve homelessness. So it becomes more of a moral obligation for the cities and counties to help, he said.

Community Foundation of Monterey County President and CEO Daniel Baldwin observed that people “must remove the stigma attached to the homeless that it is their choice. Homelessness can happen to anyone at any time and for unexpected reasons or situations.”

 

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Harvey Barkin

Harvey Barkin is a returning writer who contributed to BenitoLink in 2015. He was editor-in-chief at FilAm Star in San Francisco, a freelance reporter for San Jose Mercury News and various publications. He is also a reporting fellow for campaigns, initiatives and grant-funded projects. Previously, he was a tech writer for start-ups and a book reviewer for Independent Publisher, then Small Press.