LOS BANOS -- Merced County funding for a program for Los Banos' homeless will be in effect this year, but could be just a Band-Aid.
The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $15,000, proposed by Supervisor Jerry O'Banion, to cover Los Banos' share of the Merced County Association of Governments' Continuum of Care 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove, who is the Los Banos City Council's point woman for the program, said she was grateful O'Banion stepped in. However, she said Los Banos needs to return to its obligation next summer.
"I would like to see the funding from Los Banos be in our budget for next year," Stonegrove said.
Along with Community Development Director Paula Fitzgerald, Stonegrove serves on the implementation board for Continuum. The board meets quarterly and assesses where cities stand in relation to the Continuum of Care plan, which was drafted a year ago.
Stonegrove said Los Banos' glaring need is both emergency and transitional housing.
"The Continuum of Care is the best tool to go after funding for that," Stonegrove said.
The program's grant writer has brought $281,000 to Los Banos over two years, and $2.5 million countywide. That money pays for 10 Los Banos beds overseen by Merced County Mental Health. The program also provides vouchers for homeless veterans.
O'Banion dipped into his Special Board Project Funds, of which he has $200,000, after City Council pulled its $12,000 in Continuum funding in June.
Mayor Mike Villalta said this time next year he will again vote against sending $12,000 to MCAG for Continuum. He said $90,000, which pays for 25 hours of staff time per week for a year, is too much. The $90,000 is the total paid by Los Banos, the city of Merced and Merced County.
"My reasons haven't changed for not supporting it," Villalta said.
Following the money
Los Banos is the only city whose Continuum contribution originates from its general fund. In 2011, the city's Continuum cash came from the now defunct Redevelopment Agency.
Merced County's $40,000 contribution comes from the Department of Mental Health -- about 60 percent of people who are homeless have mental health issues. The city of Merced's $35,000 portion comes from a Community Development Block Grant, which originates from the state.
Atwater, Livingston, Gustine and Dos Palos have never contributed to the 10-year plan.
Lori Flanders, MCAG's public information officer, said Merced automatically qualifies for those funds, because of its population. Los Banos can and has applied for the block grants.
Flanders said staff hours that would be cut from grant writers will no longer hinder grant seeking, freeing up staff to pursue housing in Los Banos.
Pending board approval, Flanders said she will recommend the implementation board meet bimonthly. She said she also wants to set up a Project Homeless Connect meeting in Los Banos. The meeting is a way to inform the homeless of the services available to them, which many often don't know, she said.
"(These are) services to help get them off the street," Flanders said.
Bonnie Roberts, a Salvation Army envoy, said she is pleased supervisors approved the funds for Los Banos. She said she worried that without local funding "you're out of sight, you're out of mind."
Roberts said she believes that, despite differences in opinion, members of the community can reach a resolution to fund Continuum next summer. In the meantime, she's glad to have a place at the table.
"I'm glad we will be represented by people who really care," Roberts said.
Dos Palos involved?
O'Banion proposed $15,000, $3,000 more than Los Banos' share, because he said he wanted Dos Palos to get a place at the table -- if officials there wanted it.
O'Banion approached the Dos Palos City Council on Tuesday.
Dos Palos Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Mays said he fundamentally disagrees with government being involved with homeless services. Mays, a pastor of Valley Christian Church, said that should be the realm of faith-based organizations.
However, he said he would be willing to accept O'Banion's proposal this year. Next year is another story.
"If they're asking us to give money, that's not going to work," he said.
The Dos Palos City Council is expected to vote on its involvement Tuesday.
A homeless count in January found one homeless person in Atwater, 14 in Livingston, 75 in Los Banos and 190 in Merced. Gustine, Dos Palos and the county's unincorporated areas weren't included in the tally.
Flanders said the counts hinge heavily on volunteers, and MCAG was unable to attain a volunteer in Dos Palos.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.