Los Banos absent in push for federal homeless funds

By Corey Pride / cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 7, 2013 

The Merced County Association of Governments has applied for federal grants to help the homeless, but it's unclear how many in Los Banos will benefit from services if money is awarded.

In January, as part of the Continuum of Care, MCAG submitted applications totaling $401,766 to the Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the Merced County Department of Mental Health and the Merced County Community Action Agency.

The Department of Mental Health is requesting $330,000 for housing and providing services to 15 people with mental health issues who are chronically homeless. MCAG has applied for $8,060 for Continuum of Care planning. The Community Action Agency is asking for $63,706 to hire a full-time employee to count and track the homeless in Merced County.

The agencies are also asking for a combined $385,008 to provide housing and services to 12 mentally ill homeless people and two years of transitional housing for 16 women and children in Atwater.

No Los Banos-based agency applied for a grant. Lori Flanders, a spokeswoman for MCAG, said the grants require matching funds, which could be a reason no groups in Los Banos applied. However, she said she does not know the precise reason no Los Banos group applied.

Flanders said whether services are provided to the homeless in Los Banos are up to the agencies applying for the money.

Sharon Robinson, assistant director of the mental health department, said most services are in Merced but Los Banos does not get ignored.

"You've heard of Pacheco Place (in Los Banos). We do not just serve Merced or Merced County residents," Robinson said. "The difficulty we have in Los Banos is finding a place to fit our needs."

Pacheco Place, which opened on J Street in October, is a two-story, eight-unit affordable housing project that serves tenants who are homeless and diagnosed with mental health issues.

Robinson said because more homeless people are in Merced -- Los Banos has 79 according to last month's official count -- the bulk of the services are also located in the city. Merced's official homeless tally for this year is yet to be released but in 2012 the city recorded 190 homeless individuals.

"If there's two spots for housing in Merced and someone from Los Banos who is homeless needed them, they're (eligible)," she said. "(But) you'd have to get here to get them."

The Rev. Steve Hammond, who assists with the Los Banos homeless count each January, said he believes being a part of the Continuum of Care partnership is worthwhile.

"Sometimes we are so focused on me and mine that we don't see the big picture," he said. "I'm a firm believer that it is important for us to participate because one day we will have an organization that is big enough to (receive the HUD grants)."

Many of the homeless services in Merced County are geared toward the mentally ill, which could leave a number of Los Banos' homeless unqualified to receive available help.

Hammond said he is not able to judge someone's mental health, but most of Los Banos' homeless population are drug or alcohol addicts. He said there could be more services to help the city's homeless but there are local programs like New Way, a 19-bed faith-based rehabilitation program for men.

The Continuum of Care has been able to secure $281,000 for Los Banos in the past two years, and $2.5 million countywide. That money pays for 10 Los Banos beds overseen by Merced County Mental Health. The program also provides vouchers for homeless veterans.

In November, Continuum of Care Coordinator Alicia Ochoa-Jones met with about 20 Los Banos community members to form a list of the most pressing needs for the homeless. A homless shelter and a resource center topped the list.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com

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