San Benito County sets goal of cutting homelessness by 50% in 5 years

The plan includes performance targets of services, such as increasing the use of H.O.M.E. shelter and adding housing for extremely low-income residents.

Carmel de Bertaut contributed to this report


Two days before the Jan. 27 homeless count, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a five-year plan aimed at reducing homelessness in Monterey and San Benito counties by 50%. 

The plan, titled Lead Me Home Plan Update, was developed by the Continuum of Care board known as Lead Me Home Leadership Council of Monterey and San Benito Counties, a federal program that requires the region to collaborate on providing homeless services. 

According to the plan presented at the Jan. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, the goal is to reduce the number of homeless residents from 282—the last count in 2019—to 135 by fiscal year 2025-26. There were 527 homeless residents counted in 2017.

Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki said homelessness needs to be a priority for the county and that in addition to housing, there needs to be a focus on addiction and mental health services. 

“We got to go bold on this,” Kosmicki said. “I feel like we are running in place when it comes to homelessness.”

He said the county should look into expanding the H.O.M.E. Resource Center shelter, prioritizing affordable housing and partnering with other jurisdictions. 

Supervisor Bob Tiffany added that the county should look into providing an area where unhoused residents can safely camp or park, rather than going back to the San Benito River bed. 

According to the agenda packet, San Benito County has been a member of the Continuum of Care for over 10 years and has obtained over $5.5 million to assist homeless individuals and families through the program. 

It also states the Continuum of Care requires the agencies to create a 10-year plan to end homelessness. That plan was adopted in 2011 and the agencies are updating it with a 5-year plan.

The Coalition of Homeless Services Providers Executive Officer Roxanne Wilson, representing the Continuum of Care, said that the last count in San Benito County was likely an undercount and that the plan takes into consideration an expected increase this year as a result of that and COVID-19. The pandemic moved the county to cancel the homeless count, a biannual event, in 2021.

According to the plan, The continuum of Care expects to count 378 homeless individuals this year and see the numbers gradually decline. 

In order to achieve the ultimate goal for reducing homelessness by 50%, Wilson said the plan is based on system performance targets that include increasing the use of the shelter and transitional housing, decreasing the length of stay at those facilities and increasing the transition rate to permanent housing.

“We do want to make sure that we are focusing on increasing the performance across the board for both counties,” she said. 

Wilson added that it was also important to increase the amount of housing available for extremely low-income residents in the county by 50 units within the 5-year period as well as extending services to encampments in the rural areas, as many residents can’t travel to county offices. 

“In order for us to reduce homelessness by 50%, those are the type of housing production numbers that we need to see to make that happen,” she said, when clarifying that the units are not just within the unincorporated areas of the county but also within Hollister and San Juan Bautista. 

The plan prioritizes four population groups because of their complex needs and challenges in obtaining housing:

  • People experiencing chronic homelessness
  • Youth and young adults (up to age 24)
  • Undocumented people
  • People re-entering the community from the criminal justice system. 

Part of the plan is also to reduce the barriers to be housed in the shelter. She said one way Monterey County did that was by allowing residents who are intoxicated, something that is not allowed in the H.O.M.E Resource Center. 

“It is a true housing for shelter,” Wilson said of the Monterey SHARED Center that houses 125 people. “They, like any other housed person, can go out and have a couple of drinks of beer and come back in like an adult and they are treated accordingly.”


State increases budget

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2022-23 budget, introduced this month, includes $2 billion from the general fund to tackle homelessness in the state. 

A Jan. 10 news release said, “The Governor’s Blueprint ensures vulnerable people have the necessary help to get off our streets and get the mental health treatment they need. The plan adds funds for mental health, housing and services and clearing encampments.” According the the release, the new investments expand on last year’s $12 billion package, “creating 55,000 new housing units and treatment slots for people exiting homelessness.”

The budget document states that over the last two years $12 billion has been allocated to homeless needs and that an additional $2 billion has been added to the 2022-23 budget. It also says the money will go toward housing, encampment clearing, rehousing and behavioral health.

Enrique Arreola, San Benito County Community and Workforce Service deputy director, said he had not seen the entire budget yet but said that “there are a lot of homeless needs here in our community,” so he believes extra funding would be a big help. His office is currently working to build more transitional housing, and he hopes to bring the number of units from five to 16

Arreola is also hoping to expand on the county’s use of Homekey, a program that provides grants to purchase and convert hotels and motels into long-term and permanent housing for the homeless. County programs also include hotel vouchers.

In his Jan. 10 news conference Newsom said mental health and substance abuse issues often play a role in homelessness and he believes that to reduce the number of unhoused people more funding must be given to address these issues. 

Juan Gutierrez-Cervantes, a Mental Health Services Act coordinator at San Benito County Behavioral Health, told BenitoLink helping people with housing and behavioral health issues is a key to getting unhoused people permanently off the streets. 


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.