Dec 28, 2018
by Jeniffer Wertz, Russian River Advocates
The State of California recently passed SB 850, the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which is a block grant of $500m to provide direct assistance to cities and counties throughout California with the homeless crisis. Sonoma County is slated to receive about $12m of that funding in January 2019, based on the number of homeless individuals living within the Sonoma County. To put the amount of funding in perspective, the Sonoma County Community Development Commission (CDC) usually spends about $4m a year on homeless programs. $1.2m of the HEAP funding should be directed at the 5th District, based on the number of homeless individuals living within the 5th District.
Corresponding with the timing of the funding, the County has reorganized what has been known as the “Continuum of Care” model of governance for homeless services within the County. It was determined by an outside consultant to be inefficient, organized by various government agencies and non-profits, not working well together to coordinate Countywide efforts. It has been replaced with the “Homeless System of Care”. The new Homeless System of Care is organized of a nine-person Leadership Council, which includes Supervisor Lynda Hopkins from the 5th District, Supervisor Susan Gorin from the 1st District, representatives from various cities within Sonoma County, as well as two people who have experienced homelessness. There is also a Technical Advisory Committee, comprised of 28 people from various groups throughout the County, who will be supporting the Leadership Council.
Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Julie Combs hosted a “New Ideas” public meeting on Saturday, December 1st. Several dozen people spoke about how they would like to see the money spent. For example, Mark Krug from Burbank Housing, who is also on the HEAP Technical Advisory Committee, spoke about building new affordable housing apartment units, however, the current cost to build said apartment units was estimated at $450k each. While these units are clearly desperately needed, the cost is a major obstacle. There were a couple of people who pitched the much more affordable tiny homes; however, the obstacle with them is always finding a suitable location to place them. There was one promising specific suggestion of some lots that may be suitable that are currently for sale in Santa Rosa. Funding more “Safe Parking” was also suggested.
I spoke about the extremely low cost and success of our Workforce Fund homelessness prevention program, which pays emergency rent for local lower wage working people. In addition, I spoke about the possibility of directing some of the funding at the desperately needed residential substance abuse and mental health treatment facility beds we lack in Sonoma County. This emergency funding may present the exciting opportunity to fund something we otherwise have not had to funds for, though we clearly need more treatment facility beds for people who do not have private insurance.
The Leadership Council will be hosting the next public meeting regarding the use of the HEAP funding on Friday, January 4th @ 10 am. The meeting will be held at the PRMD hearing room, 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she would like to “encourage creative solutions” and “empower outside ideas”. This huge one-time funding opportunity may be a critical part of the solution to our homeless problem. Please join us to represent the 5th district at the meeting if you can make the time.
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