Thursday, October 4, 2007
Drug addicts need more recovery programs. Poor people need cheaper housing. The mentally ill need better treatment. And all three groups could use jobs. The city of Salinas will face these unyielding realities as it develops a 10-year plan to end homelessness.
Initiated recently by Mayor Dennis Donohue, the plan is intended to secure more federal funding. This fiscal year the city provided $130,254 to homeless programs through federal grants. Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa says that doesn’t cut it. “We need the resources,” she says. “In order to get the money from the feds, we have to have a plan.”
City leaders say they want to work with Monterey County to come up with a plan. In 2003, the county and a network of service providers developed a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. But the plan is not recognized by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, which administers the White House’s homelessness agenda. This means the county’s strategy is not nearly as thorough as official 10-year plans. It also limits the amount of funding the county can receive from the feds.
A representative from the Interagency Council recently met with Salinas city officials. If the two governments join forces, county and city leaders could create a comprehensive homeless plan that sets benchmarks and leads to more money and resources for the down and out.
The County’s five-page document sets out numerous steps, from providing homeless care to people released from hospitals and jails to deploying an on-call mobile services team. County officials say there has been some progress in reducing homelessness, but more must be done.
Margarita Zarraga, community affiliation manager for the county’s Department of Social and Employment Services, says one of the biggest challenges is the lack of affordable housing – including support services for people with mental illness, substance abuse problems or AIDS. There are 136 units of permanent supportive housing in the county. Zarraga says nonprofits have a hard time paying for the upfront land costs and construction in addition to staffing the facilities. “How are they going to help people move out of homelessness when they don’t have a place for them to stay permanently?” she asks.
An estimated 336 chronically homeless people sleep on Monterey County streets or in a shelter on any given night. In addition, the 2007 census says, 3,766 people were homeless sometime during the year. Salinas has the biggest share of this homeless population: Of the 1,402 homeless people counted in January, Salinas accounted for about 39 percent.
Robert Smith, director of Dorothy’s Place, has served many of these marginalized people with free meals at his soup kitchen in Salinas’ Chinatown. But Smith says the hospitality center has a new mission to go beyond “making misery tolerable” by expanding into job training, housing and recovery programs. “We really have the opportunity and the obligation to change lives, and that means changing programs,” he says.
Smith’s vision for change is encompassed in the Chinatown Renewal Project Plan, which the Local Government Commission and other consultants prepared in July. The plan calls for the reconnection of Chinatown to Oldtown, construction of affordable housing and the development of a one-stop social services center. The project received an extended lifeline last month when US Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded CSUMB another three-year, $600,000 grant to implement the plan and create an Asian-American cultural center.
It remains to be seen whether the city’s homeless plan will coincide with the vision for Chinatown. Donohue, who was elected on an economic development platform, is more apt to push for raising the city’s tax base than housing the homeless. But Donohue says an economic redevelopment plan for the city’s urban core must go hand in hand with a homeless plan. “I don’t think we can achieve our economic agenda without addressing the homeless issue as well,” he says.