Thursday, July 28, 2016

[Monterey County] More very-low-cost housing and temporary shelters vital to helping homeless women, study says

[Monterey County-Herald] Editor’s note: The Monterey County civil grand jury report was released late Monday afternoon. This is one of a series of stories that cover the areas the report examined.
Monterey County >> To better tackle the needs of homeless women in Monterey County, cities on the Peninsula need to create more very-low-cost housing and collaborate better with nonprofits on more alternative temporary shelters.
That’s according to a 2016-17 report just released by the Monterey County civil grand jury, which found that low-income housing is rarely available for the ever-increasing population of homeless women who seek it. The civil grand jury investigates and provides reports on the operations of local government in the county including the county, cities and special districts that exist to serve residents. It was the persistent concern about the increasing number and needs of local homeless women, many over the age of 50, that led to the study.
The report, which is the result of data collected from interviews with housing and shelter services personnel, government officials, reports from the Monterey Planning Department and city council meetings as well as news articles, concluded that loss of income brought about evictions, resulting in women living in cars while they seek low-cost housing. Yet, this housing is so rarely available that often these women end up in tents, shelters or on the street.
Emergency and transitional housing services were available to only 30 percent of the 2,308 homeless adults surveyed in the 2015 Monterey County Census Report. Women make up 50 percent of the homeless population, with 60 percent over the age of 50, according to the report.
“It’s a perfect storm of the recession and the Peninsula housing crisis and the fact that we’re built out, said Carol Greenwald, board president and one of the founders of Gathering for Women, a program for women in need on the Monterey Peninsula. “It’s the consternation of a lot of things.”
In 2011, the county developed a plan to end homelessness, creating a “Housing Pipeline” to work on housing development. But the plan was never completely implemented. The Board of Supervisors approved a 10-year “Lead Me Home” plan, which required four years of work by a very broad coalition of homeless services providers and local charities, churches and housing groups using the “Housing First” model that focuses on helping individuals and families sustain permanent rental housing quickly. But its implementation stalled due to the recession, a loss of redevelopment funds and lack of leadership. That’s despite the findings noted in the report that it costs less to house the homeless, rather than treat them with therapy and other services before they are deemed fit for housing.
But Greenwald, a retired social worker who has provided protective services to vulnerable adults and children, many of whom were homeless, doesn’t agree with one of the study’s recommendations that states faith-based and nonprofits should focus more funds toward housing the homeless, which would reduce the need for other ancillary services and save money.
She cautions against the assumption that taking all the money that nonprofits have to be put toward housing means homeless women don’t need those other services.
“Those types of services are actually quite cost effective,” said Greenwald. “They support the women after they’ve been housed to maintain housing. At Gathering for Women, we fully support the concept of having housing for the homeless but at the same time our mission is to be here in the meantime and keep them safe and healthy and connect them to those resources.”
Regardless of exact approach, the population of homeless woman is large and growing.
“In terms of the homeless you’re looking at really subsidized housing because if you’re only earning $900 on Social Security, you’re not going to be able to afford housing and maintain other needs like food and clothing without some other subsidies,” said Greenwald.
And even for those, Greenwald said very few landlords are willing to accept the vouchers because they can rent their properties at market lease rate very easily.
“It’s truly a very complex problem, not just in Monterey but in any affluent area,” said Greenwald. “These are people that have lived here most of their lives, if not all — they didn’t drive in from Fresno.”
While she said there is some low-income housing for seniors, the waiting list is usually three to five years long.
“There are way more people waiting than there are available units,” she said.
Overall, the report chalked up the obstacles preventing housing for homeless women to unwillingness of citizens to become involved, political will and cities unwilling to provide temporary solutions while permanent housing is being constructed.
Despite that, it did attribute the response to the needs of the homeless population by the county, city and local federally funded departments as well as churches, charities and other private organizations, as what keeps many in the homeless population fed, clothed and alive.
“Churches have only so much — only so much as their parishioners can provide,” said Greenwald. “But I applaud the grand jury for taking this on, looking at it and bringing the problem to the public’s attention.”
“It’s a community-wide problem that requires a coming together of both government agencies, local and state, and the community,” she added. “Awareness is a big part of it.”
Civil grand jury reports contain findings and recommendations, but the grand jury has no enforcement teeth to ensure that its suggestions are carried out.
July 15, 2016
Monterey County Herald
By Carly Mayberry

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