Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marin County Board of supes votes against more shelters

By Rachel Dovey
Published: Thursday, June 2, 2011 11:41 AM PDT
The Marin County Board of Supervisors will not be implementing a grand jury recommendation to create additional permanent emergency shelters for the homeless in Marin.

In a report titled “Sheltering the Homeless: A Hole in the Safety Net,” released on March 9, the Marin County civil grand jury declared that officials are failing to address the county’s critical need for more permanent emergency shelter housing for homeless families.

“I do think in this particular case the grand jury didn’t quite get it right,” said Board of Supervisors President Susan Adams at a board meeting on May 24, where members unanimously declined to adopt the grand jury’s recommendation.

“I think the clarification we provide in this response helps to really educate and inform what we are really doing in our community,” said Adams about a response the board drafted, which outlines its disagreements with the original report.

The grand jury report alleges that in June 2010, the county appeared ready to commit $400,000 to an expanded permanent emergency shelter program. But by November, half of that money was earmarked to fund housing for 12 chronically homeless individuals in the “Housing First” program. The other half went to Homeward Bound’s non-emergency housing programs, according to the report.

Although the Housing First program is a solid investment, the report suggests that funding the program shouldn’t override the county’s continuing need for more emergency shelter options. The report also finds unacceptable the county’s justifications for not providing more emergency shelter housing options: namely, lack of funding and inability to find workable permanent shelter sites.

Marin’s 2009 Point in Time Homeless Count, a federally mandated one-day census of homeless residents in the county, revealed 1,147 “unsheltered” residents living in Marin. “Unsheltered” means they were living in cars and parks or on sidewalks. At least 169 of those were children under the age of 15. Another 1,241 were considered “precariously housed,” meaning they were at imminent risk of homelessness.

The only available emergency shelter housing to homeless individuals (not families) is the Mill Street Center in San Rafael, which has about 55 emergency shelter beds. The county has relied on the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team project to house some homeless residents during especially cold months of winter. REST is a faith-based program that serves up to 65 single homeless men and women from December through March. The county has no known contingency plan in place if the REST program ends, according to the report.

The Board of Supervisors’ response, however, questions whether shelters are the most effective treatment for the county’s homeless problem.

The county will align its priorities with federal legislation under the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, the board’s response states.

“This new legislation marks a significant shift from the ‘Continuum of Care model’ which represented a linear system by which individuals work their way through, typically from emergency shelter, to transitional housing then on to permanent housing, to a ‘System of Care model,’ ” the response asserts. “This new nationally accepted model creates a more fluid and upstream approach which includes prevention and strategies which move individuals and families rapidly into housing avoiding the shelter system altogether.”

The county’s financial priorities will go to programs that “end homelessness,” the response alleges, rather than creating more shelters. It will consider a one-time pilot program to fund a family-oriented solution with $225,000 over the next fiscal year, it asserts.

The response disagrees with several other grand jury findings.

Though the report stated that families and children remained the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in Marin, the response declared this was untrue.

“Based on Marin County’s last two biennial point-in-time homelessness counts, family homelessness has decreased,” it reads, adding that while a 2009 count found 222 families living in different states of homelessness, a 2011 count found 155 families.

The Board of Supervisors also took issue with the report’s assertion that there was no known contingency plan in place if the REST program ends, writing that the county has increased financial support to the Mill Street Center and New Beginnings (one of Homeward Bound’s housing programs) from $575,000 to $925,000 over the past three years and is leading the Homeless Policy Committee to explore and develop an array of plans to address homelessness.

Though the grand jury report says that the county gives no financial support to the Family Emergency Center or any other emergency shelter program that serves homeless families and children, the board wrote that the county’s two federally funded programs, the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program and Emergency Contingency Funds, do, in fact, provide financial assistance to families and prevent unnecessary stays in shelter programs. Of the 287 households moved into permanent housing through these programs, 226 were families with children, it says.

Finally, though the grand jury report says that Marin lacks a county-coordinated and funded emergency shelter program that is part of a comprehensive approach to housing the homeless, the Board of Supervisors countered with the Mill Street shelter, the New Beginnings Center, the Housing First initiative and a doubling of county funds for emergency shelters and housing over the past three years, from roughly $575,000 to $1,125,000.

The original grand jury report alleges that the $550,000 given to the Mill Street Center during the fiscal year equates to 0.13 percent of the county’s annual budget. The report says that if the county found $50,050 to fund a logo design for its Parks Department or $100,000 to supplement cuts to state-funded child care, officials should be able to find funding for emergency shelter housing. “Providing emergency shelter to the two dozen or more families of mostly women and children currently wait-listed at Homeward Bound should be an equal priority,” reads the report.

— With additional reporting by Anna McCarthy

No comments: