Funds fall short for homeless relief

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 27, 2012 

Los Banos City Council cut funding to a program for the homeless in 2012, despite a more than twentyfold return expected on investment.

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 even though it returns more than 23 times as much in funding for homeless and mental health services.

The $12,000 would have gone toward paying a grant writer, who has delivered $281,000 to Los Banos in two years, and $2.5 million countywide.

The $281,000 in local funding is a large percentage of what pays for Pacheco Place, a two-story, eight-unit affordable housing project that services tenants who are homeless and diagnosed with mental health issues. The housing project officially opened in October, is unique in Los Banos and is the county's first to use funding from the Mental Health Services Act.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion dipped into his Special Board Project Funds, of which he has $200,000, in June to cover Los Banos' portion. He contributed an additional $3,000 to get Dos Palos, which has never before contributed, a place at the table.

However, Los Banos is the only city whose Continuum contribution originates from its general fund. In 2011, the city's Continuum cash came from the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency.

Merced County's $40,000 contribution comes from the Department of Mental Health -- about 60 percent of people who are homeless have mental health issues. The city of Merced's $35,000 portion comes from a Community Development Block Grant, which originates from the state.

Atwater, Livingston and Gustine, as well as Dos Palos, have never contributed to the 10-year plan.

The $90,000 total pays for the grant writer's salary, as well as for events like Project Homeless Connect. The event brings nonprofits and government services together to help the homeless.

A Homeless Connect held in Los Banos in October serviced seven veterans among the 45 people who came. Fifteen applied for county housing, 15 received flu vaccines, 12 obtained IDs and a slew of others learned about Workforce Investment, Alcoholics Anonymous and Merced County Mental Health, and other services. Two similar events have been held in Merced.

MCAG officials and homeless advocates, who met in Los Banos in November, said permanent housing for homeless people without mental health issues is the biggest homeless-related need in town. Grant applications for the Department of Housing and Urban Development are due in January.

Los Banos has 75 homeless -- 60 men and 15 women, according to an official count conducted at the beginning of 2012. The same count found one homeless person in Atwater, 14 in Livingston and 190 in Merced. Gustine, Dos Palos and the county's unincorporated areas weren't included in the tally.

The counts hinge heavily on volunteers, and MCAG was unable to attain a volunteer in Dos Palos.

Another count is due in January.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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