Wednesday, June 28, 2017

[Contra Costa County] Grand jury: Money needed for East Contra Costa homeless shelter beds

MARTINEZ — While official “point in time” homeless counts have detected a steadily declining number of homeless people in Contra Costa County since 2011, the county still needs to provide more shelter space, especially in East County, where homeless numbers are rising, according to a newly released civil grand jury report.
The report, released June 16, has several recommendations for the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors regarding the homeless situation, including having the county’s Health Services Department determine the cost of “opening and running a shelter with emergency beds in East County” and finding a funding source to pay for it; and finding funding to increase the number of beds in the county’s existing shelters in all parts of the county.
The report shows there are 418 emergency shelter beds in Contra Costa County, while the latest count showed 911 “unsheltered” homeless people in the county. With a recorded 2017 overall homeless population of 1,607 people, those 911 “unsheltered” homeless are 57 percent of the total. The national average, as reported by the federal Agency of Housing and Urban Development, is 32 percent of homeless people being “unsheltered.”
The “point-in-time” counts show the unsheltered homeless population in Contra Costa shrunk by 26 percent between 2011 and 2016. That population has also gravitated eastward — 33 percent more homeless in East County, and 45 percent fewer homeless in the west and central portions of Contra Costa. These field counts are done in late January each year by counties seeking federal money to help pay for services to help the homeless.
Paying for those shelter beds, the report says, could save money in the long run. The grand jury report cites “immeasurable” costs associated with homelessness, including law enforcement’s time spent handling homeless-related matters; jail-related costs; money spent by Contra Costa County on social services provided in the field; donations to the homeless by faith groups and charity organizations; costs to clean up East County waterways contaminated by homeless-camp pollution; and the costs of removing homeless encampments.
“The total of these immeasurable costs may likely exceed the cost of housing the homeless in shelters,” the report said.
Contra Costa Health Services received the grand jury report late Monday and is in the process of reviewing it, Lavonna Martin, chief of homeless services for Contra Costa, said Tuesday.
In a separate report, the grand jury praised the county’s Coordinated Outreach, Referral and Engagement (CORE) program for its successful outreach to connect “unsheltered” people throughout the county with needed services. The report encourages all 19 Contra Costa cities to form their own CORE teams. Martinez and Pleasant Hill have already joined to form and fund a CORE team, and Concord and Walnut Creek are partnering to create a similar team.
According to the county’s 2016 “point-in-time” count, Antioch had the most “unsheltered” homeless, 164. Richmond recorded 160 (down from 356 in 2015), and Concord had 73.
June 27, 2017
East Bay Times
By Sam Richards

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