10-year homeless plan's first phase reaping benefits

abutt@mercedsunstar.comMay 26, 2012 

Christopher McCall was homeless and living on the streets or with friends for the past two years.

McCall, a veteran, was 18 years old when he joined the Army and was stationed in South Korea as a military prison guard for three years. He returned to Merced when he got out to live with his father, who died in 2009.

At that point, McCall was on his own and on the streets.

But he started getting his life together by going back to school, majoring in psychology at Merced College. But he was still homeless.

Then last week, he moved into his own apartment on Loughborough Drive -- thanks to a homeless veteran's voucher he received.

The vouchers were part of the 10-year plan aimed at ending homelessness in the county. It's a jointly funded collaboration between the county and the cities of Merced and Los Banos.

During the annual countywide homeless count earlier this year, there were 496 homeless identified in the county, of whom 63 were veterans. The estimate put the number of homeless in the city of Merced at 248.

Officials have said the first year of the 10-year plan was a success. Besides the veteran's vouchers, it provides permanent housing and additional funding for work with mentally ill homeless. It also hosts an annual event that brings social services to the homeless.

"We finally had something in place we could actually follow," Lori Flanders of the Merced County Association of Governments said of the plan. "Before, everyone else was doing their own thing and was scattered. This is more of a focused effort."

Continuum of Care is a group of government agencies, nonprofits and faith-based groups working to reduce homelessness. It received $89,000 from the city of Merced, Merced County and Los Banos to implement the plan.

The program is administered by the Merced County Association of Governments, whose governing board approved the plan last year.

Flanders said one of the biggest achievements of the program was receiving 25 housing vouchers for veterans from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The vouchers help homeless veterans and their families find affordable, permanent housing.

Another achievement was securing $1.3 million in federal funding to put toward building permanent housing projects for homeless across the county, Flanders said.

Merced County Mental Health, which is a member of Continuum of Care, received funding to work with 10 additional chronically and mentally ill homeless people, Flanders said.

The first Merced Homeless Connect event was held last summer. It provided a place for the homeless to receive medical care, obtain birth certificates and get Social Security cards. The next one will take place at 10 a.m. on June 8 at Central Presbyterian Church.

A lot was accomplished during the first year of the 10-year plan, according to Flanders, but more needs to be done.

She estimates Continuum of Care needs about $500,000 in federal funding for next year.

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