Monday, June 11, 2018
[Monterey County] Civil Grand Jury: Who's in charge of taking care of Monterey County's homeless?
The Monterey County Civil Grand Jury released its report saying greater leadership and collaboration are needed to ameliorate homelessness and housing insecurity in the county.
The purpose of the “Who’s in Charge?” study is to draw attention to an area that needs improvement in order to make progress on addressing homelessness in Monterey County.
As a volunteer-based working group, the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury is an investigatory body created for the protection of society and enforcement of the law, the county’s website read, bound by protections under the Fifth Amendment and the California Constitution.
“Upon closer examination, it appears homelessness is an even bigger problem in our county than the biennial homeless census suggests,” the report found, a reference to the 2017 Homeless Census and Survey administered by the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers, or CHSP. “However, there is no leadership body with political power and authority to change the course of homelessness and housing insecurity in our county.”
While the report said plenty of information exists about homelessness, its causes as well as strategies to address it, there are problems creating solutions, which include NIMBYism (for "Not in My Backyard-ism"), misconceptions about the homeless population and “diffused authority,” along with a lack of active leadership, coordinated organization or political will.
“Who’s in Charge?” studied the homeless strategy in Monterey County, which is formed by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care, or CoC, system, providing findings and recommendations.
The problem of homelessness is not unique to Monterey County but is more prominent than other parts of the nation, the study said. California accounts for more than 25 percent of the national homeless population, which is directly linked to high cost of housing and severe housing shortages.
Citing data from the 2017 Monterey County Homeless Census & Survey, the number of homeless people in the county reached the highest in 10 years, and Salinas homelessness increased 57 percent since the 2015 census.
And the report found, “There is evidence that the problem of homelessness affects a greater number of Monterey County residents than documented in the homeless census.”
The Civil Grand Jury pointed to the 2017 homeless census figure of 2,837 people, while the Monterey County Education Report said 8.1 percent of public school-enrolled children, or 6,278, are homeless or living in near homeless conditions.
CHSP, the Marina-based nonprofit created in 1994 to facilitate the CoC and grant process for Monterey County, has played an important role in the county’s homeless services and data collection on the population but currently only has four staff, another issue the study found.
In addition, the Lead Me Home Leadership Council — made of officials, organizations, agencies and representatives from San Benito and Monterey counties — began convening to create a 10-year plan to end homelessness under its strategic plan.
The report said the Leadership Council is in its sixth or seventh year in implementing the plan.
But the jury found the Leadership Council, which is not bound by California’s Brown Act to make meetings public, “does not support full public accountability for meeting stated targets” and needs to better design and execute a plan to end homelessness.
Among its other recommendations, “Who’s in Charge?” said elected county and city officials from all jurisdictions should provide government leadership.
“The community has the knowledge base and the framework for addressing homelessness,” the report read. “The community does not, however, have a leadership body that can be held accountable for producing results.”
In a statement, Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker applauded the report for its findings and recommendations.
Although she has not sat on the Leadership Council, Parker’s staff have attended meetings through the years.
“The [Civil Grand Jury] correctly identified that we need political will to solve these complex social challenges, but it’s important to recognize that it is the public who influences the politicians,” she stated.
Recently, amidst major budget cuts threatening many homeless services by the county, Parker said the board of supervisors gave direction to use cannabis tax and AB 85 funding to restore over $1.5 million in Whole Person Care and Homeless Services for the county’s budget.
And while she said the report was confusing at points in the use of “County” as a geographic or government indicator, she added, “Many people assume that the county of Monterey, meaning our local government, has responsibility for providing homeless services, but in reality it is a shared responsibility among all 12 cities and the county of Monterey.”
June 8, 2018
The Salinas Californian
By Eduardo Cuevas