Los Banos strives to decrease homeless population

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJuly 11, 2014 

Nearly two months after the forced removal of homeless from an encampment on G Street, the city is reporting some progress in decreasing Los Banos’ homeless population.

According to the Continuum of Care eight of the 35 homeless people who were living on an empty lot at the intersection of G Street and Mercey Springs Road have found permanent or temporary housing. That’s two more than the six City Manager Steve Carrigan said were being helped by county agencies May 19, the day Los Banos police oversaw the removal of homeless from the encampment area slated to house the Robert M. Falasco Justice Center next year.

Carrigan said he wishes more homeless people would accept help.

“It’s frustrating, because the other (27), where do they go?” Carrigan said. “I talked with them and, yes, you have your drug addicts and people addicted to alcohol, but most are mentally ill. If they don’t want any help, we can’t force them to get help.”

Carrigan said since the encampment was shut down, he has ordered police to keep an eye out for other large congregations of homeless throughout the city. He said law enforcement has encountered some cooking and warming fires along the Rail Trail and approached the homeless to let them know they must leave the area. A homeless encampment was also discovered — and broken up — behind The Home Depot, Carrigan said.

“We are not going to allow that to happen again,” Carrigan said, in reference to homeless encampments.

There were 88 homeless in Los Banos in January, according to a Continuum of Care count. The. Rev. Steve Hammond, who is a member of the Continuum of Care, said the homeless have been more likely to seek help in the past several weeks.

“Since their place got shut down, it’s a lot less comfortable to be on the streets,” Hammond said. He said of the eight former homeless, four were reunited with family and four were placed in temporary housing in Merced.

Carrigan brought Merced County Mental Health and the Merced County Community Action Agency to Los Banos earlier this year to offer assistance to the homeless. However, Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove said Los Banos should try to take care of its homeless, not ship them away.

“It’s sad because some of them are born here and been here their whole lives, and even if they’re not it shouldn’t matter,” Stonegrove said. “Give them a bus ticket and get them out of town. If that’s your solution and you say you care about the homeless, you don’t really care.”

Stonegrove said she would like to see the City Council contribute financially to the Continuum of Care. Los Banos has not contributed since 2011. The previous annual $12,000 contribution helped bring $281,000 to the city over two years. Money received through the Continuum of Care has helped the city through the years with and without the city’s financial support. One of the projects it made possible is Pacheco Place, a two-story, eight-unit affordable housing project in Los Banos that serves homeless diagnosed with mental health issues.

Stonegrove said she believes more could be done if the city started contributing to the Continuum of Care again.

“The city manager has worked really hard on this issue (homelessness),” she said. “It would be my hope that the City Council would give him the resources to do his job.”

Carrigan said Los Banos plans to apply for $1.5 million from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to purchase housing for eight to 10 homeless people. He said Los Banos will apply in April and should be told if its request is granted in July of 2015.

Carrigan said he wants a group like the Community Action Agency to run the facility. His staff will keep the federal government informed on how the money is spent.

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