Friday, Jul. 20, 2012
Funding cut to Merced County program for homeless upsets many
By Thaddeus Miller
LOS BANOS Advocates, volunteers and the homeless themselves tried one more time to get City Council to rethink its position on a Merced County program.
You have homeless veterans who need services, said Aldus Jackson, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran who spoke to the council Wednesday on behalf of his peers.
In June, Los Banos City Council pulled its budgeted $12,000 from the Merced County Association of Governments Continuum of Care 10-year Plan to End Homelessness. The programs grant writer has brought $281,000 to Los Banos over two years, and $2.5 million countywide, said Lori Flanders, MCAG public information officer.
That money pays for 10 Los Banos beds overseen by Merced County Mental Health. Flanders said the program was also involved in securing 25 vouchers targeted at getting veterans off the streets. The vouchers are not easy to track, Flanders said, so she was uncertain how many went to Los Banos veterans.
Bruce Rivers, pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church, gave City Council an anecdote about someone newly homeless this week. He said its not unusual.
I get eight (or) nine calls a day from people who might be homeless, or are on their way to homeless, Rivers said.
Under city policy, an agenda item struck down by council can not be brought back for a vote except by a councilmember in the majority, and the $12,000 was pulled by a 3-2 vote. So, Councilman Joe Sousa and Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove could not move for another vote, and Councilmen Tom Faria and Scott Silveira and Mayor Mike Villalta could but did not. Villalta said he wouldnt support a new vote, because the money goes to an MCAG grant writer.
I am not in favor of giving money to an administrator, Villata said.
MCAG has committed to pursuing grants to help the homeless in Los Banos, despite City Council pulling the plug. However, the grant writer will have fewer hours to do so.
Atwater, Livingston, Gustine and Dos Palos have never contributed to the 10-year plan. Merced County contributed $40,000 last year, and the city of Merced paid $37,500 while Los Banos paid $12,000 into the fund.
A homeless count in January found one homeless person in Atwater, 14 in Livingston, 75 in Los Banos and 190 in Merced. Gustine, Dos Palos and the countys unincorporated areas werent included in the tally.
Faria floated an idea to use the $12,000 locally, with Salvation Army discretion.
Joe and Bonnie Roberts, envoys of the local Salvation Army, said $12,000 would not go far. Joe Roberts called it pennies compared to the amount it brings back to Los Banos.
I guarantee you, we put more than $12,000 into the community in a month, Joe Roberts said.
I am really disappointed that they would think [that] we will give them a carrot, and they will go away, he said.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.